The Consummate Investigator

Article excerpt

Today's sleuth gleans more evidence from bytes than backroads.

THE COMPUTER, along with the information that it brings to our fingertips, is one of the greatest investigative tools developed in the twentieth century. Through the wonders of microchip technology, we can now search a multitude of databases and analyze many information items relevant to our investigations.

While the computer itself does not conduct investigations, it narrows the parameters of the search and focuses the investigation far faster than any means previously available. Technology enables investigators to network with other resources and agencies across the globe and provides an instantaneous transmission of data.

The most useful databases cover law enforcement, intelligence, industry, public record resources, credit bureaus, media, and scientific and technical information.

Law enforcement and intelligence. For many years, law enforcement agencies have collected criminal history information and other statistics that help identify criminals, determine their whereabouts, and provide intelligence on members involved in criminal acts, such as organized crime, theft rings, and serial killers. In recent years, new databases have been able to provide financial and modus operandi information to help law enforcement officers identify patterns of crimes in the hope of recognizing acts perpetrated nationwide by serial criminals.

National Crime Information Center (NCIC). The NCIC was developed as a tool for local law enforcement agencies to access criminal history information nationwide. The FBI organized, built, and maintains this database and collects criminal arrest, conviction, and intelligence information on wanted suspects, both in the United States and abroad.

The FBI also maintains the National Stolen Property Index, which includes stolen government and military property, and the National Fraudulent Index.

International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol). Interpol is a network of national central police bureaus in more than 155 member countries that share information with each other to assist law enforcement agencies in the detection and deterrence of international crime. Each bureau is an agency of that member country's government and serves as the liaison between that law enforcement agency and the Interpol network.

The types of crimes and investigations on which Interpol can provide information include the location of suspects, fugitives, and witnesses; criminal history checks; prevention of terrorism; stolen artwork; weapons, motor vehicle, and license plate traces; and driver's license checks.

El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC). EPIC is a proprietary database of U.S. Customs to assist the agency in documenting the foreign travel of individuals reentering the United States from a foreign port. The database is helpful in identifying parties who make frequent trips outside the United States and has led to the identification and arrest of thousands of people involved in theft, smuggling, and drug trafficking.

Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). FinCEN was developed as a division of the U.S. Department of the Treasury to provide public record information, financial analysis, and other computerized data on drug dealers and other high-dollar money laundering white-collar criminals. The database is maintained by the treasury department and used by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and regulatory agencies to determine the financial activities of these individuals and locate assets in cases where white-collar criminals are suspected of financial fraud.

Some of the items searched through FinCEN include the following:

* Cash transaction reports (CTRs). CTRs provide information on individuals conducting financial transactions of $10,000 or more. Initially required of banks and financial institutions, this reporting requirement is now required of title companies, auto dealers, and others receiving cash funds in excess of $10,000. …