New crime unit to use mapping software

By Patricia Meade

The unit is expected to hit the streets this weekend.

YOUNGSTOWN — Advanced computer mapping software will identify “hot spots” for the newly formed Crime Suppression Unit.

The FBI, Youngstown Police Department and Mahoning County Sheriff’s Department announced the crime-fighting program at a news conference Monday at the East Side library on Himrod Avenue.

Mayor Jay Williams said the partnership of officers, deputies and agents will increase safety for the city. The CSU — four officers and four deputies — will work late at night and overnight and be proactive and aggressive, he said.

He said that he expects the CSU efforts over the summer to be intense but that the program will continue throughout the year.

People won’t know when members of the unit will be out. That unpredictability — the element of surprise — is important, Williams said.

The mayor said members of the unit will be paid by their respective departments. The program involves regular shifts, not overtime, he said, adding that grant money is available if overtime or equipment is required.

Sheriff Randall A. Wellington said that this is the first time deputies and city police will pair up in cruisers and that he expects great results from the partnership. City police will be deputized in case the work takes them into outlying areas, he said.

The mapping software — Project Pinpoint — was first used in Philadelphia, said FBI Special Agent Derek Siegle of the bureau’s Cleveland office. The data include where crimes have taken place and let police know where criminals, including those wanted on warrants, live in the neighborhoods of concern.

After a murder, for example, the mapping will allow police to see who lives nearby and check them for outstanding warrants, Siegle said. “We’ll get them off the street and see what information they can provide,” he said.

When crime occurs, such as a series of robberies, the CSU will review mapping of the specific area and then saturate the streets, using the information to generate a list of persons of interest, said YPD Lt. Dave McKnight, head of the vice squad. The program will focus not just on crime suppression but also on investigations, he said.

He said officers and deputies have been cross-trained so that they’re familiar with work done by the Vice Squad, FBI/Mahoning Valley Violent Crimes Task Force and Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force. He expects the CSU to hit the streets this weekend.

Police Chief Jimmy Hughes called the CSU a unique collaborative effort. He said residents are encouraged to call police with tips, and the information will be passed along to the new unit.

The level of cooperation is unprecedented and opens the door for federal prosecution, said City Prosecutor Jay Macejko.

“Crimes happen quickly; we have to be ready to respond,” he said.

According to information on Project Pinpoint on the FBI Web site, “a probation violator living near a crime scene might be motivated by a police visit to tell what he knows about a crime. Likewise, a witness might share information with an informant or confide in a community leader rather than go to law enforcement authorities.

“This reluctance to share information with law enforcement — particularly in urban settings — is a driving force behind [Project Pinpoint]. Once confronted privately, however, most witnesses tend to cooperate with police and give good information. On occasion, witnesses become trusted informants; the program has tripled the informant base for the FBI Violent Crimes Task Force in Philadelphia since 2004,” according to FBI Special Agent Bill Shute of the bureau’s Philadelphia field office.

Witness intimidation is a very real factor, so what you have to do as law enforcement is go out and get information. Nobody’s going to hand it to you, Shute said.

“A detective is facing two distinct difficulties in responding to crime scenes. First, there is a perception in the community that witnesses will be harmed. This simply does not bear out. Second, there is a certain culture that portrays people doing the right thing as a ‘snitch’ and coordinated efforts to make people ‘stop snitching,’” Macejko said. “This is unfortunate. No one promised that ridding a neighborhood of crime or prosecuting violent offenders would be easy. We need members of the community to step up and assist when the need arises or else our best efforts become futile.

“On the other hand, detectives need to be able to tap into as many community and legal resources as possible. This is where operations such as Project Pinpoint become critical. In a short period of time, detectives will have a wide array of information available, and specialized units, such as the new crime suppression unit, will be available to assist in utilizing these resources,” the prosecutor said.

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