Florida, Alabama law enforcement use data-sharing system to track suspects

'FINDER' software shares criminal records instantly

By Mike Holfeld - Investigative Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - Ten years after becoming a nonprofit, the Florida Integrated Network for Data Exchange and Retrieval, or FINDER project, has connected and translated criminal data for 135 statewide police and sheriff’s agencies along with “visitors” from federal agencies.

Director Jim McClure, a former intelligence and bomb squad deputy with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, told News 6 that the system eliminates tedious phone calls and document requests between law enforcement agencies trying to track a suspect.

“It’s something that should have been done 40 years ago,” said McClure, who oversees FINDER’s development, training and grants.“Cops have been collecting information forever, it’s how to get it out of those systems that brought us to be.”

Agencies around the country use different computer data systems that essentially speak different languages, FINDER serves as the bridge between those languages.

“They’re all different,” McClure said. “We approached it with the idea, ‘Let’s just try to be the translator between all of them,’ and those connections are critical.”

Most agencies in the Central Florida area used the FINDER software to track down suspects’ “legacy data,” during the past decade, McClure said.

As of this month, 135 law enforcement agencies across the state are part of the FINDER network along with 100 federal agencies.

FINDER's success is gaining momentum across the country.

In Jefferson County, Alabama the sheriff’s office recently joined the network to assist the newly formed Metro Area Crime Center.

Captain David Thompson, a 27-year law enforcement veteran, told News 6 that the FINDER system has caught the attention of other police agencies in Alabama.

“Currently we have five agencies that have joined and we’re looking to spread across the state,” he said. “It allows us to look at actual police reports from other agencies and get the information we need, instantly.”

McClure said he hopes the data sharing system will expand to more states so that investigators are able to access key suspect data.

That data will include “any information that the law enforcement agency would have in the records management system … from traffic citations to an incident report, to arrests,” McClure said.

The FINDER team also provides access to current watch lists and pawnshop sales information that could prove to be the missing link to catch a crook.

For more information, visit http://lettr.org/finder.

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