NJSP Using Crime Mapping Software to Advance Investigations
December, 2016 – When police investigate a crime scene, most of the time, the incident is localized to a specific home, street, or intersection. When a crime occurs between multiple vehicles, at high speed on a busy expressway, matters are complicated. Very complicated.
The crime scene is measured not in feet but miles
On the afternoon of August 29th, 2016, on the busy eastbound lanes of the Atlantic City Expressway in New Jersey, three cars engaged in an intense shootout. It started near Egg Harbor Township and continued for miles coming to a tragic end near Tilton Road. A Ford Explorer, riddled with bullet holes, ground to a stop in a parking lot with blown out tires and missing windows. Inside, four men were shot, but alive. Back at exit 39, police were called to another stopped vehicle – this one not as fortunate. There, police discovered the passenger of a Nissan Maxima shot dead – the driver slightly injured.
The New Jersey State Police (NJSP) called it a “rolling shootout”. In all, five people were shot, one fatally. Police suspected that all the victims knew each other, but sorting out what happened, where, and how was going to be a challenge. Witness testimony, a K-9 unit recovering a stash of weapons near where the Expedition stopped, the path of spent casings, and suspect/victim interviews were not in short supply. Compounding the problem for investigators is that all of it was strewn across multiple agencies, counties, and jurisdictions.
How would the State Police go about making sense of an overwhelming amount of evidence?
“GunOps collects lots of data from lots of different streams, sources, and jurisdictions and puts them all together so investigators can make sense of it all,” explains Major Geoffrey Noble, the Commanding Officer of the NJSP’s Office of Forensic Sciences (OFS). The OFS is tasked with providing investigators with timely, accurate, and extremely high-quality forensic services – including investigative leads derived from forensic examinations.
Officially in use since the summer, GunOps is a web-based crime mapping software that allows unprecedented collaboration and information sharing throughout the investigative process. Crime scene technicians can enter information at the scene, forensic personnel can add photos, data, and results, and detectives can consult, filter, and search for leads at their desk or in the field on a mobile device. Moreover, GunOps allows investigators to immediately identify links between cases, suspects, and guns.
At the NJSP we collect lots of data from different streams, sources, and jurisdictions. GunOps lets us put it all together so investigators can make sense of it all — quickly. Timing is everything and GunOps lets us do this to take shooters off the street.
Major Geoffrey Noble, New Jersey State Police
Cross-jurisdictional collaboration is integral to an investigation of this type
Because GunOps is web-based and can be used on any platform, it has helped the NJSP and its partner agencies in generating more investigative leads and solving more crime.
“New Jersey-wide we have at least 50 users accessing data across seven agencies and GunOps is being used by CSI detectives, forensic personnel, firearms examiners, as well as detectives and commanders at the municipal and county levels,” said Noble.
With regard to the Atlantic City Expressway shooting, the NJSP recognized that this was an incident where the accessibility and scope of a software like GunOps could benefit the investigation. “We entered all the cases, people, and guns into GunOps and all of it hit against other cases. GunOps quickly put all of this information in one place so we could make sense of it all,” shares Noble.
Two days after the shooting, five people were charged in connection with the Atlantic City Expressway shooting. They are all facing multiple weapon charges. In mid-September, a sixth man was charged and arrested in connection with the incident. The investigation is ongoing.
Major Noble recognizes how technology can play a big part in helping keep New Jersey safe, “This case involved multiple agencies and GunOps put it all together – it allowed detectives to connect the dots faster and compress our timeline. Timing is everything and GunOps let us do this to take shooters off the street.”