E-mail becomes investigative tool

(WAKE COUNTY, N.C.) -- Every day, Lt. Walt Martin of the Wake County Sheriff's Office sends e-mail to about 70 law enforcement officers with information on thefts, burglaries and other property crimes.

He hopes officers will remember a detail, such as the description of a stolen ATV, and keep an eye out for clues when they're serving a warrant or on patrol in their jurisdictions. It might help him solve a crime in his.

On Nov. 22, Martin received a fax from the Harnett County Sheriff's Office with a list of 39 guns deputies seized from a house. He attached the list to an e-mail and sent it out.

"We try to feed what we got, they try to feed what they get, just to see if they crisscross," Martin said.

The e-mail list has become popular over the last year. Martin now sends messages to agencies ranging from the Benson police to the Secret Service. Besides the daily messages, he tips off local agencies about the activities of known criminals.

"We are trying to solve crimes," he said. "You've got to work together to do it."

So far, the e-mail has helped break down barriers between

agencies but it hasn't resulted in a lot of closed cases, Martin said. In some cases, detectives have linked suspects to the crimes but lack evidence to prosecute. The department has handed off other cases involving guns or drugs to federal authorities.

Ronnie Cobb, a detective with the Johnston County Sheriff's Office, said the messages have helped clear six or so cases, including several burglaries.

Wake detectives started sending e-mail to other agencies last winter when they were investigating a string of residential break-ins. One of the few clues they had was a neighbor's sighting of an old Chevy Impala.

Later, Wake deputies arrested several men in connection with the break-in of a store near Fuquay-Varina, Martin said. The men told them about another man involved, who was later arrested in connection with a crime in Harnett County.

Investigators found the white Impala at his house, Martin said. Deputies snapped a few digital photos and sent them via e-mail to different agencies. The suspects were tied to crimes in Sampson, Harnett, Johnston and Wake counties.

In Wake County, Donald Lee Aver, 30, was convicted of one count of felony breaking and entering and one count of felony larceny, according to court records. Investigators are looking into his involvement in similar cases.

One reason the e-mail is helpful is that criminals often commit crimes in several jurisdictions, said Greg Kirkman, a detective with the Wake County Sheriff's Office.

"Generally they'll work an area till it gets hot on them, then they'll move to another area," he said.

The idea of sharing information between agencies isn't new, but the ease of communication is. In the old days, detectives would try to catch each other on the phone. Or someone would fax a "BOLO," which stands for "be on the lookout."

Trouble is, cops spend much of their time out of the office, and they may not see the message in a mailbox until the end of their shift or the next day.

But just about all officers check their e-mail. Some can do it from their cars. And officers armed with information about a gun or computer stolen in a neighboring county may catch a criminal trying to unload the property in their neighborhood the next day.

"If you don't find anything ... in a day or two, then that's gone," Kirkman said.

(iSyndicate; The News and Observer; Nov. 25, 2000) Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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