San Jose Mercury News (CA)
May 28, 1996
Section: Front
Edition: Morning Final
Page: 1A

RAOUL V. MOWATT, Mercury News Staff Writer

The old saying that there's no escaping the long arm of the law might need some updating for today's computer era. That's because law enforcement agencies are hoping there's no evading the World Wide Web.

Increasingly, virtual police stations are surfacing on the Internet to help catch fugitives, a trend that may soon include cyber-wanted posters for as many as 6,000 violent felons from California.
But more than that, the World Wide Web is ushering in a new phase of community policing in which computer-savvy residents can find out about prevention programs and neighborhood crime statistics with a click of a mouse. Citing figures that show as many as 16 percent of Californians regularly go on-line, some politicians and police officers see the Web as a potent but underused law enforcement tool.

''It's the next step in technology,'' said Ray Shields, a San Jose police officer and executive managing director of Fugitive Watch Productions, a Gilroy-based company that produces television shows and newspapers that target suspected felons. ''If the Internet is the future, that's where we want to be to stay a step ahead of the criminals.''

The World Wide Web allows users to jump from pages about one subject to a related area and to transfer text, graphics and sounds to their personal computers. As its name implies, this part of the Internet makes anyone capable of becoming a publisher.

Two factors, technophobia and money, have hindered the spread of police-related web pages. Indeed, officers have put together many of the existing ones on their own time.

But departments are gradually finding Web pages help them solicit tips, polish their image and announce crime trends, said Jim Hernandez, a criminal justice professor at California State University, Sacramento.

The pace of police departments going on-line may further speed up after the FBI recently crediting the Web with helping it capture a felon on its 10 most-wanted list.

Plenty of details

Its page about Leslie Isben Rogge rattles off details about the bank robber who had escaped from custody. He may carry a police scanner and often wears Foster Grant sunglasses, the page says. One of his tattoos is a devil with his name, ''Les,'' on his right forearm. The page also contains two pictures of Rogge, several aliases and vital statistics about the 56-year-old Seattle man.

An unidentified Net surfer in Guatemala recognized Rogge's picture and tipped the agency that he was living in the country, the FBI said. The dragnet that followed pressured Rogge to surrender May 18 at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City.

Meanwhile, a bill making its way through the California Legislature would establish a major Internet site allowing public access to information provided by state law enforcement agencies. In addition to storing information about fugitives, the system could disseminate facts about as many as 2,000 missing children and 2,000 unsolved murders. It is expected to cost more than $100,000 a year to maintain.

''We are less than four years from the turn of the century,'' said state Attorney General Dan Lungren. ''It is about time law enforcement relied more on the Internet and less on milk cartons to find children, nab fugitives and solve murders.''

In the Bay Area

Here in the Bay Area, though, most agencies still are off-line. Some police departments, such as Menlo Park, have Web sites that take a ''Just the facts, ma'am'' approach, including broad mission statements, background information about police brass and numbers to call for help.

San Jose police have a Web page - along with other city departments - that includes basic information about the department's different divisions and purports to allow users to send the agency electronic mail. But police spokesman Louis Quezada disavowed the page, saying the department doesn't have the money to operate one. He referred questions to a representative of the city's information services department, who said a police captain was working on a more elaborate home page.

Capt. Richard Dettmer, who describes himself as a computer buff, voluntarily set up a more elaborate site for Hayward police. It allows Web surfers to compare the city's crime statistics for periods in 1995 and 1996, find information about new jobs in the department and read a calendar of community policing events.

By late June, Fugitive Watch hopes to launch a Web site with 50 of the 2,500 suspected criminals in its data base available for viewing.

Most police Web pages ''are putting out department information that's useful but not always exciting,'' said Seth Jacobs, director of the research and statistics program at SEARCH, a non-profit agency that encourages law enforcement's use of technology.

Change coming

That's bound to change as younger, Internet-using officers convince their departments that the Web can reach out to communities, said Ron Levine, a Santa Clara County deputy sheriff who has run his department's Web page since July. ''So many people are relying on the Net these days that this is really going to play an integral part in getting information out to them,'' he said.

Departments looking for a model Web site could turn to the Irvine Police Department's page, which has had 100,000 visits since it was launched last fall. By soliciting support from businesses, the department has established an elaborate site that includes a map and a version of taps playing as viewers mourn police officers killed in the line of duty.

''It's a new means, a better means to talk to our customers, the public,'' Irvine police Sgt. Phil Povey said. ''We try to touch on all the aspects of what makes us tick.''

Here are listings for some of the police departments that have Web pages. Others can be found using Internet search engines.

Berkeley PD:

Irvine PD: http://www.irvinepd.orgThe


Hayward PD:

Menlo Park PD:

Oakland PD:

Palo Alto PD:

San Carlos PD:

San Jose PD:

Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department:

Copyright (c) 1996 San Jose Mercury News