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A series examining nearly 100 unsolved murders in the region

CBI covers Colorado

B.J. Plasket
Daily Times-Call
2001 Times-Call Publishing Co.

   DENVER While a majority of its population lives along the Front Range, much of Colorado remains rural.

  When major crimes hit smaller towns and cities, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation becomes the glue that holds the state's law-enforcement community together and provides resources otherwise unavailable.

   In recent weeks, the CBI took its mobile crime lab to a triple murder scene in the tiny southern Colorado town of Guffey, which has fewer than 100 residents and no police force.

  That wasn't the first time the CBI came to the aid of a small town, but the agency's responsibilities go far beyond its mobile crime lab.

    It is responsible for conducting the background checks required by federal law before the purchase of a gun.

   It is also responsible for maintaining the crime computers used by every law-enforcement agency in the state.

   And, if Colorado ever creates a clearinghouse for unsolved homicides, the CBI will almost certainly be in charge of it.

   Police now use one of two computer databases for virtually all of their electronic communication and investigation the National Crime Information Center and the Colorado Crime Information Center. Police refer to the national computer as NCIC and the state computer as CCIC.

   Both are ultimately under the control of the federal government. The NCIC is run by the FBI and the various state crime computers such as CCIC are run within the strict guidelines set up by the FBI.

   Those two databases are invaluable to police.

    Punching in the name and birth date of any American will instantly produce that person's criminal history.

  It will tell if that person is wanted anywhere for anything.

   The system also tracks property instantly identifying vehicles and their owners through the license-plate numbers.

   It can also identify property that has been listed as stolen everything from cars to stereo equipment.

   "The NCIC and CCIC are primarily for documented information wanted people and wanted things," said Mike Igoe, the agent in charge of the Program Support unit of the CBI.

   "They do not list suspects."

  Police in Colorado do have available to them a computerized system also set up and run by the FBI called the Violent Criminal apprehension Program or ViCAP.

  But the name is a bit misleading.

   ViCAP does not list suspects and, according to Igoe, "is not suspect-specific."

   ViCAP is also devoid of so-called "intelligence information" that could lead to suspects.

   "ViCAP is made up mainly of m.o. (modus operandi) information  facts about the case," said CBI Deputy Director Pete Mang.

   According to Mang, placing so-called intelligence information such as specific suspect names on the ViCAP database could form a legal mine field.

   "Intelligence has always created a real specter in the minds of its practitioners," Mang said. 

   Suspect information taken from ViCAP would, according to Mang, be "subject to discovery," which means the information would have to be handed over to defense attorneys in the event of arrest. Release of such information could tip off others who may be under investigation.

   Mang believes there might also be a legal fight over a suspect's access to ViCAP information before an arrest is made.

   "That is arguable," he said. "Normally the courts give more protection to that kind of information, but there is a question as to how much it could be protected."

    But what about an entirely new database that shares suspect information and other sensitive information?

   "In theory I would be in favor of that," Mang said. "The more information you can get out (to police), the better.

    Igoe, however, said such a system would have to be strictly constructed and maintained.

   "If everyone played by the same rules, it would be easy," he said. "But not every officer in every department has the same ideas. Some agencies aren't so discriminating."

   Igoe said such a system would have to be overseen by a single agency with the responsibility of deciding what is listed and what is not.

   Igoe said such a homicide clearinghouse would have to operate under strict guidelines developed by a governing board made up largely of law-enforcement officials.

    "There would have to be strict oversight to maintain consistency," he said, adding he would welcome an improved system.

   "Everything can be improved," he said.

    While a new state or national murder database would face legal, political, financial  and administrative challenges, some local police agencies and the states of Georgia and North Carolina have taken an easier, if less effective, path toward breaking open cold homicides.

   They have joined the Internet, with Web pages offering thumbnail sketches of unsolved homicides, most of which are no more than a few years old.

   Mang and Igoe think it's a good idea.

   Mang added that such a Web site would need publicity in order to be effective.

   "Without people coming to the Web sites, it would do no good. If the media helped publicize it, it could be a win-win situation, " he said.

   Igoe said setting up a state Web site for unsolved murders would be relatively simple.

 "Technologically, it wouldn't be a hassle," he said, "but you need resources."

   The government term for resources, however, is money.

   "You would need four-to-six full-time employees to keep it up to date," he said. "I would also favor including other crimes of violence."

   Payroll for those employees would likely have to be funded by the state Legislature.

   Igoe said the success of such a Web site would depend largely on "keeping the data fresh." He said one agency should be in charge of putting up the page and maintaining it.

   "I don't care who does that," he said.

    While databases, Web sites and other forms of communication would no doubt help investigators with cold cases, both Mang and Igoe said they would be only as good as the work ethic behind them.

   "None of this takes the place of old-fashioned police work," Mang said.

   "Technology doesn't take the leg work out of investigation," Igoe said. "It just helps make it faster."

   For the families of murder victims and the police investigating the murders, that would be a great start.