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Mapping Intelligence Sources

A Fine Point
Mapping Intel Sources


Map and skyline of PhiladelphiaWhen investigators arrived at a bar in Philadelphia after a shooting in July that left four people dead, their questions elicited an all-too common response: nobody saw anything.

“It was a quadruple homicide in a neighborhood bar and nobody’s talking,” said Special Agent Bill Shute of our Philadelphia field office. “It happens all the time. Witness intimidation is a very real factor. So what you have to do as law enforcement is go out and get information. Nobody’s going to hand it to you.”

But where exactly is the information? The answer, Shute says, can usually be found within a 400-yard radius of a crime scene, especially when it’s within an inner city. Shute knows this because that’s one of the first things he does when police detectives come up empty at a crime scene. He draws a big circle around it on a digital map and then watches as potential leads—informants, sex predators, probation violators, bail jumpers, community leaders—appear as color-coded icons on the grid. The map also plots locations of past homicides and non-lethal shootings.

Shute’s three-year-old program, called Project Pinpoint, integrates existing police, court, and FBI records into an off-the-shelf street-map program that gives investigators visual leads on whose doors to knock on first for valuable information on current cases or even emerging threats.

“What Project Pinpoint does is take a street-level approach to gathering intelligence,” Shute said.

For example, a probation violator living near a crime scene might be motivated by a police visit to tell what he knows about a crime. Likewise, a witness might share information with an informant or confide in a community leader rather than go to law enforcement authorities.

This reluctance to share information with law enforcement—particularly in urban settings—is a driving force behind the program. Once confronted privately, however, most witnesses tend to cooperate with authorities and give good information. On occasion, witnesses become trusted informants; the program has tripled the informant base for the Violent Crimes Task Force in Philadelphia since 2004, Shute said.

Shute says working with local detectives and warrant officers has given him valuable insight into street-level law enforcement. “The incredible amount of criminal intelligence that exists on the street is the very thing that I wanted to see us capture,” said Shute, “This can only be accomplished through the data provided by local law enforcement and is one of the biggest reasons the FBI needs to remain strongly involved in the violent crime program.”

The program has been adopted by violent crime task forces in Detroit and Denver and is slated for use in at least a half-dozen other major metropolitan areas. Agents in most of our 56 field offices have used the program as well. In fact, its use has spread beyond violent crimes to other investigative areas, such as public corruption, gangs, and counterintelligence.

In Philadelphia, two of Pinpoint’s biggest successes were in 2005. The program led agents to arrests in the separate slayings of a city police officer and a 9-year-old. In the days after the multiple shootings at the Southwest Philadelphia bar in July, it helped identify potential witnesses and assisted with the recovery of the murder weapon.

Shute says Pinpoint’s beauty is its simplicity. “You don’t need a Master’s Degree in computer science to use this program.  We can teach it to anyone in ten minutes.  We use it everyday.”

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