Time to fund state's missing police link - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Time to fund state's missing police link

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Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at bill.richardson@cox.net.

Posted: Friday, June 11, 2010 3:30 am

Tempe Police Commander Kim Hale sounded the warning in September of 2008: “Remember Mr. Gravely! These people are out there. They’re evil.”

Hale was referring to Graham Gravely, who escaped detention for years before finally being arrested in May in connection with the kidnapping and raping an elderly woman in south Tempe in 2008.

Gravely, a convicted kidnapper, reportedly has since admitted to the 1998 murder of a Yuma woman and other crimes.

Hales’ warning could have concerned any of a number of criminals.

In May, Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office deputies, using DNA evidence, traveled to California and arrested Kevin Lee Francois, who is suspected of raping a woman in her Tempe apartment in 2003. MCSO says investigators are looking into a number of other sexual assaults and burglary cases they believe Francois may have committed that could go back decades. Court records show Francois had contact with police from one end of Arizona to the other.

And in 2007, after two years of terror, the “Baseline Killer” and “Serial Shooters” were arrested. Acting Phoenix Police Chief Michael T. Frazier pointed out in a letter to the governor at the time, “One has to wonder whether these episodes could have been solved more efficiently if criminal justice entities had a system of information sharing.”

Therein lies the problem: Arizona has no statewide system to collect, analyze and disseminate information to police that could link violent crimes and identify suspects.

In 2004, Gov. Janet Napolitano had experts develop a plan to collect and share information on violent crimes. The panel developed the Sex Crimes Analysis Network (SCAN) that was patterned after Washington state’s highly successful Homicide Information Tracking System that covers the Pacific Northwest. HITS is linked to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service’s Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX) that collects and shares crime information in not only the Northwest, but in three of the four border states. Arizona doesn’t participate. SCAN died after its $400,000 in funding was diverted.

Not only doesn’t Arizona have a statewide system to handle data on violent crimes, it doesn’t have a system to share data on the organized crime groups that are responsible for the majority of serious criminal activity in Arizona.

The good news is there is a grassroots effort by a handful of local police chiefs, including Mesa Chief Frank Milstead, and county sheriffs who are working to solve the problem with a program called AZLink.

AZLink’s goal is to create a sharing environment and governance structure for information sharing by city, county, state, tribal and federal law enforcement agencies. The plan is to have all Arizona law enforcement agencies able to link up with other police information sharing systems like HITS, LInX and the Tucson-based information sharing system known as CopLink.

Arizona can come up with $10 million to fund border crime efforts, but still won’t fund a statewide information sharing system that’s essential if Arizona is serious about impacting cross-border and serious crime statewide.

The time has come for the state to fund such an effort and bring Arizona policing into the 21st century.

Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at bill.richardson@cox.net

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