New tool seen as key in identifying suspects in crimes
Brockton police officer Michael Cesarini turned to his computer for clues when an eighth-grade girl told authorities someone tried to abduct her as she walked home from school.
In the screen fields he typed in "blue" for the vehicle color; "North Main Street" for the location. He then typed in an approximate height, an approximate weight.
And he waited.
Within minutes, he would get the names of registered sex offenders in the area who drove similar cars or matched the description.
It is part of the latest technology used by police and the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry to both keep track of registered offenders and identify possible suspects when a sex crime or attempted abduction of a child occurs.
"It is a great tool," said Cesarini, the coordinator of the Brockton police sex offender registry.
The new software system by xFact, of North Andover - called Sex Offender Registry Information System, or SORIS - was rolled out in stages throughout the state late last year, and has been a crucial tool for law enforcement investigators throughout the state.
It can check 10,000 names within 30 minutes, compared with 350 names a day under the old system. It can check by name, location, vehicle and description, giving investigators quick leads in investigations.
"It is very user-friendly," Saundra Edwards, chairman of the Sex Offender Registry Board and a former Plymouth County prosecutor, said.
So far, roughly 80 police departments have been trained to use the Internet-based and password protected system, and more are learning how to use it every week.
Edwards said the feedback has been positive. "They couldn't say enough about it."
The Brockton Police Department was one of the first to use the software last year, part of a pilot project that included Natick police and the Norfolk County House of Correction.
Peter Perroncello, superintendent of jail operations at the Norfolk County jail, said linking jails into the system provides police additional information that can identify offenders.
"The jail is an incredible source of data mining," he said. "We have physical characteristic data - tattoos, markings on individuals - that the police departments may not have."
He said Norfolk County Sheriff Michael Bellotti wanted to be part of the pilot project in September to help provide more data on sex offenders.
Some changes had been made to the program based on feedback from those first users, Edwards said.
Edwards said the old search system for sex offenders was cumbersome and took too long to use.
The new system is designed so all officers with Internet access can search the information and come up with results within minutes.
That is important, considering how many sex offenders are registered in the state.
As of last month, there were 8,398 registered sex offenders in the state.
Of that number:
The names and photos of all Level 3 sex offenders on the street are publicly available and posted on the state Sex Offender Registry Web site (http://sorb.chs.state.ma.us/).
The names of Level 2 offenders are only available upon request at either the registry or the local police department. The names of Level 1 offenders are only available to law enforcement.
Cesarini said Brockton officers are being trained on the system in waves, and eventually everyone will know how to use it.
"That is an ongoing process," he said.
Cesarini said the new system is helpful but cautioned there's a segment of sex offenders who aren't in the data because they've never been caught.
"Unfortunately, it isn't only people who are registered sex offenders who commit these acts," he said.
In the attempted abduction case in Brockton last week involving the eighth-grade girl, investigators are still working on the case. Cesarini said he can't discuss what information they've gathered so far or what information was gathered through the SORIS system since the investigation is still active.
Maureen Boyle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.