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CBD keys successful 'crimestopper' site

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Information is a powerful tool for fighting crime. That was the inspiration to develop the Criminal Locator Web site operated by the Seminole County Sheriff's Office (SCSO) in Florida.

The Web site provides the citizens of Seminole County with information regarding registered felons and sex offenders living in the area, as well as the operations of consumer fraud perpetrators, dubbed "traveling criminals" by law enforcement. The site also offers a password-protected area where Seminole detectives share information with local, national and international police agencies. An e-mail "eLert" system allows registered users to know when new information, built and stored as components, is added to the site.

Providing the public with information on known criminals and fraud schemes is a traditional police method, said Peter Robinson, special projects coordinator, Webmaster and public access systems coordinator at SCSO. The Criminal Locator Web site uses new technology to support old-fashioned police work.

The strategic use of Web technology to fight crime is showing good results. Since the Web site began operation, Seminole County's reported crime rate is half the state average. Police use the password-protected area of the site to get detailed information, including photographs of suspects and known criminals, according to Robinson. Police from as far away as New York, Boston and even San Francisco, Phoenix and Los Angeles, sign on to the site seeking information on suspects.

The Web site has been credited with helping to capture residential burglary suspects in the Palm Beach area, as well as aiding detectives in identifying suspects in crimes committed throughout the U.S., including cases in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Los Angeles, Robinson said. The system requires constant updating of existing files and the addition of new ones, prompting the development of a so-called "Internet-enabled sandbox" for individual developers. The individual site allows each developer to construct components with minimal concern for the status of fellow programmers. And once each component is completed, it can be immediately integrated into the system.

Site development, maintenance, software, hardware and hosting are provided on a pro bono basis by ICGate Inc., a Winter Park, Fla.-based Web design, development and consulting firm. Sheriff Donald Eslinger personally initiated contact with ICGate, which produced the latest crimestopper apps.

Initially, the Web site had grown up organically, explained SCSO's Robinson. As more data and features were added, there were performance problems both for Sheriff's officials adding reports to the site, and the public and police agencies trying to access it.

An ICGate team led by the consulting firm's president, F Harvel, reengineered the Web applications on Apache and Linux with the addition of a Cache database from InterSystems Corp., Cambridge, Mass. The development team utilized modified Spiral/Extreme development techniques that focused on identifying individual components and then utilized programmer teams to implement the components.

As a Webmaster, Robinson is impressed with the results of the four-month reengineering project. He estimates that the time it takes to add a criminal's background information, including a photograph, has gone from 18 minutes to seven minutes.

"Cache cut the processing time, I'd say, 40% or 50%," he said. "It's amazing. In fact, it is almost scary, the thing is so fast."


Application profile:

Tools and Technologies:
Apache and PHP; Red Hat Linux with Intersystems Cache database

Development Team:
F Harvell, Paul Hayes, Jim Vela, Ron Cool, Tyler Hunt, Meghan Llewellyn

About the Author

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.

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