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$34M Computer Upgrades in Conn. to Simplify Learning a Criminal's Status, History

Law enforcement computer upgrades worth $34 million are under way in the state to help make police officers safer through quick access to detailed information on criminals.

A new $26 million Offender Based Tracking System and $8.5 million in revisions to the COLLECT system of warrant and arrest files will give single-query access to troves of information - from detailed criminal histories to conditions of bail.

Once complete, the faster, single-query system will be available to state troopers and officers in all of the state''s 100 municipal police departments.

A single query to the offender tracker, for instance, could reveal whether an offender was on probation, had a court case pending, had a history of violence, was the subject of a protective order in a domestic-violence case and had a re-arrest warrant. Several searches are now required to pull this information together.

But these advancements, which are rolling out over the next year, won''t be a panacea.

What police know about the people they confront and when they know it - questions Connecticut residents are asking in the wake of the slaying of Newington Police Officer Peter Lavery during a domestic-abuse response Dec. 30 - will still vary from department to department and case to case, even with quicker access to more detailed information.

Domestics, car-stops, drug raids - these will remain among the most volatile, unpredictable situations in police work. What the computer initiatives will do is help make officers better prepared as they deal with potentially violent people, and help investigators learn the backgrounds of suspects in criminal cases more quickly.

They "will be significant tools in the tool box," said Cmdr. John Murphy of the East Hartford Police Department.

The offender tracker "has a wealth of important data. And we certainly want to provide our officers with all of the information we can in dangerous situations. But in the life of a police call, decisions on how much information to provide during the dispatch function are open to discussion," Murphy said.

An offender''s name must be entered for the tracker to produce a profile. That means the tracker can''t be queried until a dispatcher or police officers learn the name of someone at the address to which they are heading.

Lavery, 47, a 17-year veteran, was killed by an ex-convict who fired a burst from an altered assault rifle while hunkered down in the basement of his girlfriend''s house. Bruce Albert Carrier, 45, a fired former correctional officer, then killed himself during a 19-hour standoff.

A state police report on the tragedy is still a couple of weeks away. The report may address whether or not police knew that Carrier was the man in the basement and were aware he was convicted of illegal possession of an assault weapon in neighboring New Britain in 2000.

Another major issue - one that doesn''t have anything to do with computer databases - is whether the girlfriend provided the Newington officers with accurate information about the situation they were facing.

The offender tracker should be available to state police and all 100 municipal police departments by summer and the COLLECT revisions are being done in phases over the next two years.

These two advances, coupled with automated fingerprinting, a $7.6 million program that uses digital scans rather than ink cards, represent the most important technological improvements since police departments began changing from pencils and carbon paper to computers 20 years ago, police officials say.

The COLLECT system - what officers and dispatchers now use for state and national crime and warrant information and motor-vehicle records - is being transformed from an old "green-screen" mode that runs off a main-frame computer, to a much faster browser-based system that will be familiar to any officer who has ever searched the Web.

And the offender tracker will for the first time combine criminal histories, court records, prison information, probation or parole status, conditions of bail, re-arrest warrants and protective-order registries in a single, super database.

Officers eventually will be able to tap into the offender tracker from the laptop terminals in their cruisers, said Sgt. Hank Lindgren of the Guilford Police Department.

The American Civil Liberties Union has concerns about these systems.

When databases are merged, the potential for errors and misuse tend to rise, said Annette Lamoreaux, legal director of the ACLU of Connecticut.

"Who''s going through the merged data to verify the accuracy of all the information that is being pulled in?" Lamoreaux said.

Designers of the offender tracker said they worked for a year to make certain that it contains only the records that police are authorized to see and that the information is updated and relevant.

Records of dismissed court cases, for example, are not in the system, said Terry Schnure of the state Office of Policy and Management.

"We assembled data from several locations, but we used only what is critical to tracking an offender through the criminal justice system," Schnure said.

Patrol officers, detectives, dispatchers, inspectors and judicial and correctional officials have to be trained and certified before they can use the tracker.

The system, maintained by the state Department of Information Technology, will be accessible only from designated computers inside police departments, prosecutor''s offices and the judicial branch and the Department of Correction.

Instruction began last fall and should be completed by summer. Newington Police Chief Richard Mulhall said he''s already sent a couple of officers for the certification training.

East Hartford is taking a lead, with 16 investigators already trained, and plans to host three training sessions next month.

The Guilford Police Department has participated in the training, and the Bristol and Wethersfield departments are scheduled to hold sessions soon.

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