Sources of Information

In addition to statements from victims and witnesses, and information from other police officers and informants, detectives can work with intelligence analysts to review sources of information available in databases.

Some of the databases offering treasure troves of information are the following:

  • Department of Motor Vehicles (secretary of state): To obtain drivers licenses, vehicle registrations, and photos.
  • Department of Corrections: To track convicted felons and determine their incarceration or parole status; photos from the time of incarceration are often available.
  • Stolen property databases: For instance, Trace is the largest database of property reported stolen to U.S. law enforcement agencies. This database holds millions of serial numbers of stolen goods from thousands of police agencies that can be searched to identify goods that are recovered.
  • Federal, state, and local court information: The PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) database hosts millions of case file documents and docket information for all district, bankruptcy, and appellate courts. Furthermore, most state and local felony courts maintain a database, but there are databases that cover the entire United States. An example is Corra's Nationwide Criminal Records Database, which offers a powerful search of more than 200 million records nationwide, including the District of Columbia, which includes criminal records from statewide repositories and archives, departments of correction, local county information, traffic violations and infractions, and administration of court records. This database also includes the nationwide Sex Offender Registry search.
  • Probation, parole, and supervised release data: There are state and local databases that track offenders who have been placed on probation or are on parole.
  • Prosecutorial information: Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) has a database for hundreds of millions of federal charges and convictions. There are federal databases that list health and safety convictions, elder abuse convictions, and prosecutions by the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Gang-related tracking: The National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC), operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), integrates gang intelligence from across federal, state, and local law enforcement on the growth, migration, criminal activity, and association of gangs that pose a significant threat to the United States.The NGIC supports law enforcement by sharing timely and accurate information and by providing strategic and tactical analysis of intelligence. The databases of each component agency are available to the NGIC, as are other gang-related databases, permitting centralized access to information about gangs.
  • National Crime Information Center (NCIC): The NCIC is a national database, operated by the FBI, which is a nationwide clearinghouse for crime-related information. The NCIC database consists of 21 files. There are seven property files containing records of stolen articles, boats, guns, license plates, parts, securities, and vehicles. There are 14 person files which are: Supervised Release; National Sex Offender Registry; Foreign Fugitive; Immigration Violator; Missing Person; Protection Order; Unidentified Person; Protective Interest; Gang; Known or Appropriately Suspected Terrorist; Wanted Person; Identity Theft; Violent Person; and National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Denied Transaction.
  • Sexual predator tracking or Sex Offender Registry: The FBI has on its website the National Sex Offender Public Website, which provides access to the latest information from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and numerous Native American tribes for the identity and location of known sex offenders.

Besides state and local systems and databases, there are also nonprofit and private sources of information about suspected or known criminal figures, groups, and businesses, as well as terrorism. For instance, one such database is operated by the Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Units (LEIU). Another is LeadsOnLine, a private subscription service used by more than 1600 law enforcement agencies (Swanson, Chamelin, Territo, and Taylor, 2012).This service provides access to transactions from thousands of reporting businesses, including scrap metal processors, second-hand stores, Internet drop-off stores, pawnshops, and eBay.

In addition, there are hundreds of social network sites and message services, such as Facebook, myYearbook, Twitter, Pinterest, Linkedln, YouTube, WhatsApp, Messenger, Instagram, and Classmates, that contain personal profiles and often valuable personal details about where people live, work, and go on vacation, along with information about friends, associates, and love interests.

As can be readily seen, there are a plethora of databases and sources of intelligence and data these days. The intelligence analyst and the tactical crime analyst must be aware of the many sources of useful data in order to be of the most help to law enforcement.

In Chapter 9, we introduce the concept of data mining and using information accessed from computers and the Internet to give police investigators and police administrators actionable intelligence.

Questions for Discussion

  • 1 Which databases might you come to rely on as an intelligence analyst?
  • 2 How would you use social media and what would you hope to find on social media sites?

Important Terms

Data: Information, especially facts or numbers, collected to be examined and considered as useful for the investigation of a crime or for analyzing crime trends.

Database: Set of data grouped together in one location in a computer. A computerized database is much like an electronic filing cabinet of information arranged for easy access or for a specific purpose.

Intelligence: Data available to, collected by, or disseminated through the intelligence analyst or the tactical crime analyst for use by a police agency.

Intelligence analysis: Continually evaluating and analyzing data in order to provide the most useful possible information to police officers.

Study Guide Questions

For questions 1—3, indicate whether the statement is true or false.

  • 1 The intelligence analyst’s raw material is data.
  • 2 Crime analysts provide information to police investigators about crime, suspects, or other persons of interest in a criminal investigation.
  • 3 The intelligence analyst’s data only come from one source.
  • 4 For an investigation to make any progress, the intelligence that comes to the investigator must be

a Able to name the criminal offender

b Absolutely accurate

c Reliable and accurate

d Obtained with a search warrant

5 There should be an interplay between the criminal investigator and the intelligence analyst so that data are

a Kept secret by the analyst

b Only relayed when the investigator is stumped

c Shared back and forth

d Obtained from databases that the investigator is familiar with

6 Some of the databases potentially offering valuable information to move an investigation forward may come from

a The Department of Motor Vehicles

b The Department of Corrections

c Stolen property databases d All of the above


Bruce, C.W. (2008). Fundamentals of crime analysis. In S.L. Gwinn, C.W. Bruce, J.P. Cooper, and S. Hicks (eds.), Exploring Crime Analysis: Readings on Essential Skills. Overland Park, KS: International Association of Crime Analysts, pp. 7—32.

Swanson, C.R., Chamelin, N.C., Territo, L., and Taylor, R.W. (2012). Criminal Investigation. 11th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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