The Mobile Office: Field Tactics and Investigations
Raymond E. Foster, LAPD (ret.), MPA
of Research and Data can lead to felony
introduction of mobile technology into law enforcement has increased
dramatically. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2000, 75% of
local police officers and 61% of sheriffs' officers worked for an agency that
used in-field computers or terminals, compared to 30% and 28% in 1990[i].
Just at the rate of application has increased, so has the sophistication of the
equipment. Indeed, in the previous article we saw that police in-field
computers have steadily graduated from dumb terminals to fully-functioning
equipment has given the street officer access to more and better information and
provided him or her with a variety of means to capture information.
Unfortunately, we may be somewhat lagging in our ability to apply that
information in our field investigations and tactics. In this article we will
explore some of the possible uses of technology in field investigations.
and Hot Data
On patrol you
probably pass hundreds of cars each day. While an in-car computer gives you the
ability to run each license plate you pass[ii],
you just don't have the time. Absent probable cause or reasonable suspicion to
stop a vehicle, you can increase your odds of finding stolen cars and wanted
suspects by narrowing your search. There is significant research that shows a
strong correlation between crime and drugs, alcohol and age. Moreover, there is
research to indicate that being under the influence of drugs or alcohol strongly
increases the likelihood of arrest for both property crimes and violent crimes[iii].
One way to narrow your
search is to go to locations where you know there is drugs and/or alcohol. As
an example, try visiting all of the bars in your area an hour before closing.
Drive through the parking lot and surrounding streets checking the vehicle
license numbers. You will find a stolen car. And, you know when the suspect is
going to return at closing. By narrowing your search to an area with alcohol
and vehicles, and then using the power of your in-car computer you have
significantly increased the odds you will locate a stolen car.
Another tip is to look
in motel parking lots. It will only take you a minute or so to glide through
the parking lot and check the license numbers. The transient nature of motels
often lends itself to drug sales and parties. I have often found that illegal
activity tends to increase in shabbier motels between 0100 hours and 0400
hours. Locations that provide off-site sales of alcohol, just after midnight
until closing are another good hunting ground for stolen cars and Driving Under
the Influence arrests. A person making the last beer run of the night is very
likely to young, under the influence and obviously not planning ahead.
Research indicates the
peak years for committing crime are 17 to 21, steadily decreasing thereafter.
Remember that we are not using the research to build probable cause or
reasonable suspicion. We are using it to narrow our random use of the in-car
computer. We are simply going to locations where there are likely to young
males, alcohol and vehicles.
Fugitives and Lies
The in-car computer
has given us tremendous access to information from the National Crime
Information Center (NCIC). Generally, when you check NCIC you are actually
querying up to 22 separate databases containing over 66 million records[iv].
For instance, from your in-car vehicle NCIC gives you access to data about
stolen vehicles, license plates, boats and guns. And, you can obtain
information on wanted persons, missing persons and other fugitives.
As you uncover stolen
vehicles you will run across vehicles stolen out of state. It is important for
both your investigation and safety that you realize this is a different type of
investigation. If you find a suspect driving a car stolen from out of your
state you will not be booking them for the car theft. You will be booking them
for being a fugitive from the state wherein in the car was stolen. So, you are
not conducting a stolen vehicle investigation, but a fugitive investigation. As
you articulate your reasonable suspicion to search the suspect and the vehicle
remember the person is a fugitive from another state.
Before the advent of
the in-car computer the number of people you could run for warrants was
limited by the air time. Especially on night watch, you simply couldn't run
each and every suspect you stopped. Perhaps more importantly, you rarely had
access to a suspects driving record. Now, with in-car computers, and as
officer safety permits, both warrants and driving records can be routinely
checked during field investigations.
Of course, many of the
people we stop do not have identification. We rely on them to provide the
information we use to check the various databases. And, as the old adage goes
garbage in/garbage out. Simply put, you cant make effective use of the in-car
technology without good information on the suspect. But, there are some ways
you can use and perhaps store information in your in-car computer that may be
helpful in determining a suspects true identify.
The first step in
finding out someone's true identity is determining the truthfulness of their
statements. If you can figure out that the information they have provide is
accurate you need go no further. Generally, social security numbers are issued
by state. If you ask someone their social security number and they can at least
remember the first three digits you can compare that information against the
information about their place of birth.
are a few people who are born in one state and move before they are issued a
social security number, the tax law changes that require dependants over a year
old to have a social security number has significantly reduced the number of
people whose place of birth and place of social security number issuance do not
match. If the suspects information does not match you have a clue that the
information they are providing may be untruthful.
When a suspect does
not have identification try asking for their parents full name before you ask
them their name. If the suspect intends to conceal their identity they may have
a ready made false name for themselves. But, you can throw them for a mental
loop by asking for their parents names. They will either provide you with
their parents real names (thereby short-circuiting their efforts to conceal
their own identity) or their delay in answering may provide you with further
evidence that they are attempting to conceal their identity[v].
Most databases that
you access with your in-car computer query an age range. For instance, if you
run a suspect with a date of birth in 1960, it will likely query several years
each side of that year. So, by general appearance you have one third of the
date of birth information you need to accurately check for wants and warrants.
One technique you can use to verify information is to ask the suspect for their
astrological sign. Generally, I ask this question a few questions after the
date of birth question. If the suspect tells you they were born in October, but
tell you they are a Pisces, you know they were likely to be born in late
February or early March and not October.
If you in-car computer
has a floppy disc drive you can download information like social security
numbers and astrological charts. You simply make yourself a disc with all of
the information you gather you can use this to check against self-reported
information. Also, consider the use of a floppy disc to keep e-files on your
penal code, vehicle code, etc. This will give you ready access to important
information in your mobile office.
Imbalance Equals Danger
Officers working with
a partner should employ the concept of cover and contact. That is, one
officer is primarily responsible for contacting the traffic violator, suspect or
witness and the second officer is primarily responsible to provide tactical
cover. This clear division of responsibility greatly enhances officer safety
and may ultimately strengthen investigations. The use of your in-car computer
can unnecessarily distract you from the suspect(s). It is your partners (or
back-up officers) responsibility to maintain control of the suspects and the
surrounding are while you use the in-field computer. Remember, there are danger
points during an investigation caused by the imbalance of information between
you and the suspect. The suspect knows whether he or she is wanted. Points in
time when the suspects feel you are distracted and attempting to verify their
information are danger points. These are times that may motivate the suspect to
flee or attack.
Police work is about
information. Your in-car computer provides you access to a wealth of
information. But, that information is only as good as your ability to
creatively apply it. In the next article in this series we will look ahead at
some of the developing technologies for the mobile office.
Law Enforcement Management and Administration Statistics (LEMAS) 2000,
Bureau of Justice Statistics
Generally, probably cause is not needed to randomly check licenses plates.
For instance, in State v. Richter, 765 A.2d 687 (N.H. 2000), the court found
that "Such a check is not a search subject to the protections of the Fourth
Amendment to the United States Constitution. See State v. Bjerke, 697 A.2d
1069, 1073 (R.I.1997) (holding that a defendant had no reasonable
expectation of privacy in a motor vehicle license plate). Nor does it
constitute a search within the meaning of Part I, Article 19 of the New
Hampshire Constitution. 'In considering what constitutes a search for
purposes of our Constitution, we have stated that a search ordinarily
implies a quest by an officer of the law, a prying into hidden places for
that which is concealed.' State v. Summers, 142 N.H. 429, 432, 702 A.2d 819,
821 (1997) (quotation and brackets omitted). In no way can the visual
inspection of a license plate mounted in public view on the front or rear of
a vehicle be considered 'prying into hidden places for that which is
concealed.' Nor can the officer's subsequent check of associated motor
vehicle licenses and records, when 'the state is the very body that issues,
controls and regulates' such licenses and records. However, you should be
guided by state and local law and policy.
Harrison, L. & Gfroerer, J. (1992). The intersection of drug use and
criminal behavior: results for the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse.
Crime and Delinquency. 38(4), 422-443.
Status of IDENT/IAFIS Integration, Report No. I-2002-003, Department of
Justice, December 7, 2001
According to NCIC, most databases are search and return information on
phonetically similar names (e.g. Marko, Marco or Knowles, Nowles or
derivatives of names such as William,Willie, Bill).