Piecing together Greensboro's gang activity can be a connect-the-dots puzzle without any numbers for guidance.
City detectives spend hours drawing and then erasing lines between crimes and suspects. At times, they find patterns. Sometimes, they find zilch.But a computer software program popular among national law-enforcement agencies is now giving local police a stronger handle on gangs.
Want to see how a stolen gun finds its way into the hands of a drive-by shooter? No problem.
How does a gang leader in federal prison know a Greensboro street thug? Easy to show.
Analyst's Notebook, designed by Virginia-based i2, is the same program military special forces used last year to capture Saddam Hussein. The CIA employs the software in its hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Greensboro officials purchased the program in August using federal grant money. Each version carries a $5,000 price tag. Only one copy is in use - though more could be on the way, contingent on future police success.
The program's visual spreadsheet offers detectives an uncluttered picture of what was once a jumble of loose relationships. Guilford County prosecutors hope to use the software in January to illustrate for juries how gangs operate.
Police can scan photos or download documents into the spreadsheet. Next, they "draw" lines between various elements before typing descriptions under each line. You can also include audiotapes and actual videos.
Click on the links. Footage or sound springs to life.
Sounds simple, right? Not so, given the vast volume of intelligence police sift through, and the misconceptions officials say the public has about gangs.
"If you ask the average Joe on the street, they don't believe we have gangs," said Chris Parrish, the county's assistant district attorney who handles gang prosecutions. "People have this ... mentality that it's the Bloods and the Crips , and nothing else. People are still looking for the red flag in the pockets, and it's not like that anymore."
Parrish may get his first opportunity to use the software in early 2005 when he tries three men arrested for a December 2003 drive-by shooting of a house in northeast Greensboro, among other crimes.
Another nagging itch for law enforcement throughout Guilford County is the Tiny Raskals Gang. One of the most active groups, sheriff's deputies charged several members during the summer for a string of car break-ins in the Forest Oaks and Pleasant Garden areas.
Bobby Edwards, a Greensboro police detective, helped in the county's investigation. Edwards oversees the Analyst's Notebook software for city police.
"We're dealing with domestic terrorists, for lack of any other term," Edwards said. "(Gangs) create an atmosphere where you don't feel safe in your neighborhood."
While no hard numbers exist, Parrish and Edwards said they believe their renewed focus on gangs is convincing thugs to move elsewhere.
The district attorney's office is the first in the state to prosecute gang members under North Carolina's continual criminal enterprise law. And a series of high-level arrests among some gangs in the area has created a gap of criminal leadership.
"We've had a lot of gang members pack up and leave," Parrish said.
i2's client list includes the FBI, the DEA and "basically every three-letter intelligence agency," according to company spokesman Brian Lustig. More than 2,000 customers worldwide use the program.
"This product ... allows the user to see all the connections, whether it's financial transactions or a name that has three aliases attached to it, and those three names were being used in different gang activities," he said. "It was used in a pretty significant number of criminal investigations in the U.S., including the D.C. sniper case and the Louisiana serial rapist case."
Edwards said the software, while helpful, is not a cure-all for gangs in Greensboro. Technology is only as good as the information you enter.
"It's not a miracle worker," Edwards warned. "You don't just put the stuff in and it tells you who did the crime.
"It's just going to give us the ability to track some things better."
\ Contact Eric J.S. Townsend at 373-7008 or firstname.lastname@example.org