D.S. Woodfill, The Republic | azcentral.com
April 3, 2014

Arizona police are closer than ever to reproducing the lighting-quick file sharing that has so far only been the stuff of fiction, depicted in shows such as the CBS-TV hit series “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

If House Bill 2591 becomes law, police agencies across the state could – with a few clicks of a keyboard and mouse – start calling up crime information from each others’ records-management systems as early as early 2016.

“That would be my most optimistic time frame,” said Bill Kalaf, director of intelligence-led policing at the Mesa Police Department. “If everything went well, we could do that.”

Kalaf is the architect of the legislation, which seeks to create a Joint Powers Safety Committee. Sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, the bill passed a House vote and Kavanagh said he hoped it would pass the Senate and be handed to the governor sometime next week. The bill sailed through the Senate Committee on Public Safety with no opposition on March 12.

Many of the state’s largest law-enforcement agencies are already part of a network known as CopLink, which is often referred to as “Google for cops” and has been in wide use since 2007.

The committee would broaden that network to the many smaller police departments, sheriff’s offices and tribal authorities across the state without crafting time-consuming intergovernmental agreements or memorandums of understanding, as is common practice.

“(They) become very cumbersome because you can’t get two guys sitting at a table in a bar to agree to put what on a pizza let alone trying to get three lawyers to agree to how a memorandum of understanding is supposed to look,” said Frank Milstead, chief of the Mesa Police Department, a founding department of CopLink. “Those things become very complicated.”

Such agreements are required for agencies to share criminal data with other departments, so cities can protect themselves against the unlikely but possible misuse of information by another jurisdiction. The agencies also agree to accept grants, contributions and other funding to pay for the manpower and software to tap into the network.

“A major benefit of formalizing the relationship with government blessings is that it makes them a legal entity that can apply for and receive and disperse grants, especially from the federal government, and that’s a big part of it,” Kavanagh said about his legislation. “It also sets up a formal board of directors and allows them to establish rules of operation. And, most importantly, it allows them to have formal rules to guarantee privacy and security of the data because much of this data is criminal intelligence information, and you want to make sure that it doesn’t get inadvertently or negligently leaked.”

Bill Richardson, a retired Mesa police officer, has advocated for state funding of an information-sharing network for several years.

“This should have happened 35 years ago,” Richardson said. “For whatever reason, the state has decided they haven’t wanted to enter the 20th century.”

Richardson pointed to one of the most notorious criminals in recent Valley history when he makes the case for establishing such a network: Mark Goudeau, the convicted “Baseline Killer” who terrorized the Valley 10 years ago.

Goudeau’s criminal history stretched back into the 1980s.

“So there was information about Goudeau in Phoenix; there was information about Goudeau inside the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office; there was information about Goudeau at the Maricopa County Adult Probation and there was information about Goudeau at the Department of Public Safety,” Richardson said. “None of the agencies could talk to each other. Had Phoenix and the other agencies that were involved been able to put the information into the system, and then look for the behaviors of past offenders and past offenses coupled with what they knew about the new offenses … I think they could have solved the case sooner. They could have identified him sooner, and hopefully that would have meant they would have arrested him sooner and the killing and the rape spree would have ended sooner.”

Richardson described much of the data shared via such a network as “behavioral DNA.”

“Let’s just say you don’t know who the suspect is,” he said. “You don’t have DNA, you don’t have fingerprints. Do you have a similar crime that occurred before yours? (If so) you might have some evidence over here, some evidence over there, and you put it all together and maybe now you can find out who the suspect is. That’s the key.”

Richardson estimated that less than half the municipal, county and state law enforcement agencies in Arizona are part of CopLink. He hopes HB 2591 will facilitate 100percent participation.

Passing the legislation is just the first step, he said.

“It has to be self sustaining,” he said. “It’s got to last forever. That requires ownership and this bill is going to create ownership.”

Milstead said he foresees a day when all states can connect with other agencies, either through networks like the kind used in Arizona or through one managed by the federal government.

“One day it will be a little bit like Jack Bauer,” he said. “He can just put in a piece of information and really check everywhere in the nation for it. That doesn’t exist today. Only on TV can they solve those crimes in less than 40 minutes.”

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