How Long Beach Cops Are Fighting Gang Violence With PDFs

Posted: 8/13/2013

As seen on CITEworld.com

By: Todd R. Weiss

For years, Detective Chris Zamora of the Long Beach Police Department has been working the streets of the city as a member of the department's gang enforcement section. In the past, Zamora and the other members of the gang unit were the only ones who had easy access to detailed police files on renowned gang members and their activities, including whether outstanding arrest warrants were present.

But since 2010, the department has expanded the availability of those files on gang members to all of its approximately 800 officers through an application on officers' in-car computers. The information is transmitted through PDF files that contain images, details, and arrest warrant information about gang members who are wanted by the law. That change has been huge, Zamora told CITEworld.

"Patrol is the backbone of police departments across nation," said Zamora. "It's the only group of cops who are out there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. What this system created was a force multiplier" by getting the information to cops who were already out on the streets so they could extend the mission of the gang enforcement officers.

Seeing patterns

As late as 2007, the department's officers were still using paper-based reports to handle their crime cases, including records on gang members. At that time, Zamora coincidentally began to see new organizational patterns among many of the gang members that he had not seen before.

"I started to see that what looked like one street corner gang was actually tied into a much larger organization, with multiple levels, including one on the streets, one in jails and one in federal prisons," he said. "We began to investigate narcotics activity where the gangs worked in concert with each other."

That research led to an umbrella organization of traditional Hispanic street gangs in Los Angeles County, called Surenos, he said. The group was started in 1958 in prisons and has ties to the U.S.-based Mexican Mafia, he said.  "This was like my journey."

But the growing quantity of paper files and data about the gangs and their members was becoming ever more difficult to sort, study, and use by the late 2000s, he said. "The management of those paper files became more time consuming than the investigations themselves," he said. "We needed a way to analyze it all."

At the center of that need was an existing computer-based police tool that helped detectives keep track of court actions and filings that were being issued against gang members. The "gang injunction" was a tool that had been used for a long time, but never to its full potential, he said.

"I wanted to use it against the Surenos organization, not just against the individual street gangs," said Zamora. "And what that meant was a tremendous amount of work and having to keep track of all that information."

He also wanted a way to streamline the gang injunction data stream so that it could easily be disseminated to front line patrol officers to get more law enforcement eyes looking for the wanted suspects. Web-based technologies in the department's patrol vehicles were new in 2007 and the department wanted to capitalize on the Internet-enabled computers in the cars, he said.

At the time, the police department was already using a basic arrest and records management reporting system that used digital imaging from Laserfiche to convert paper files into digital files that could be searched quickly from anywhere.

That's when the idea came to ask engineers with the department's IT systems and Laserfiche if they could come up with a way to bring it all together so that any Long Beach police officer could access this essential gang information while they were on patrol.

By 2010, the application was on the streets, running on the Panasonic Toughbook laptops that were inside the patrol cars of every officer. The application, which uses PDFs to display and store the gang information, was built using a confluence of other applications, including the Tiburon arrest and records management system, SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise and the Laserfiche imaging application, according to Zamora.

"They created a template where information can be placed," he said. "Officers see a screen, so they can see who is on the injunction and who is eligible for arrest. That's the most important injunction information. Nobody had ever put it out there for patrol officers in the past. What I was fighting for was a digital database that was paperless as much as possible."

That PDF system has now been in use since 2010, and Zamora has been presenting lectures about it to other police departments around the nation.  "We're using technology in a smarter way in gang enforcement where it wasn't really there before."

Gang arrests have gone up 10x

The in-car gang injunction system has been a big boon, says records administrator Ed Ivora. "Before we had the system, if a person a patrol officer stopped was a gang member and was on an injunction, the officer would have to call several people to find out what was going on," said Ivora. "It was a very onerous process, but it was just what we had at the time."

So far, it has made a significant and measurable impact, raising the total number of arrests from the injunctions from 25 annually in the past to more than 250 a year, according to Ivora. "Each year we've increased the number of gang arrests. And the more active gang members you jail at one time, the better your crime situation is going to be."

So far, the application is only available on the in-car computers, but mobile versions will come in the future, said Zamora. "My goal is to put this in the hands of every officer as an active resource in the field," he said. "Many times they are in houses, other buildings and in locations away from their cars," where they can't presently use the application.

Apps for smartphones, including for iPhones, Android, and others, will arrive for officers in the future, he said. "That way, the officer would have that information in their hands," wherever they are located. "That's something that we want but we haven't gotten to that level yet. In the next year, that is definitely a goal that we are striving to achieve."