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TX Police Use 'Hook Books' To Track Recently Arrested Offenders

TX Police Use 'Hook Books' To Track Recently Arrested Offenders

Dallas Morning News via YellowBrix

November 28, 2010

DALLAS – Carlton Sparks thinks he’s being watched.

“The police frequently ride up and down my street,” said Sparks, 20. “And when I get pulled over by the cops, they basically already know who I am. I feel like I’m being monitored by the cops, definitely.”

Sparks, who is on probation for burglary, aggravated assault and deadly conduct, isn’t just paranoid. He really is being monitored – as are hundreds of other recently arrested offenders – through “virtual hook books” compiled and maintained by the Dallas Police Department.

Police have made at least 700 arrests since January through the program of using color-coded charts to track offenders at the street level.

“In Dallas, we have a huge ocean of arrestees and criminals,” said Officer Joe King, who pioneered the concept at the city’s southeast patrol station. “What we’ve done is taken a small piece of that ocean and set it aside and created a small pond so we can place small criminal groups under the microscope to better study and track.”

The concept has since spread to include electronic hook books for monitoring robbers and another tracking drug dealers. All seven Dallas patrol stations have adopted hook book programs, and the department’s auto theft unit will soon roll out one tracking auto thieves, chop shops and auto theft rings.

Numerous North Texas departments also have expressed an interest. Lancaster and Grand Prairie have implemented their own versions.

“It’s basic policing 101,” Lancaster Police Chief Keith Humphrey said. “Crime follows known criminals. … It’s a simple thing that I think police departments have gotten away from because they were focusing on call to call to call.”

In the Dallas narcotics hook books, hyperlinks on police computers take officers straight to police reports related to offenders. Another link goes directly to a state criminal database of phone numbers, addresses and related offenders. Another link goes to aerial photos of drug houses. Easy-to-follow organizational charts indicate connections between offenders.

Not surprisingly, King is finding that many of the southeast patrol area’s drug dealers are burglars, too.

“If you’ve got a couple of guys dealing drugs in an area and we find out they are … burglars, we’re going to pay special attention to them,” said King, who was recently named patrol officer of the year.

In Dallas, police regularly check every name in the hook books for arrest warrants. If an offender is wanted, officers actively hunt for the suspect.

The offenders’ names also have been placed on a state criminal watch list, allowing police to be notified when offenders are arrested or released. The watch lists generate an alert on in-car computers any time an officer encounters an offender.

“When you stop someone … you know you’re not dealing with Joe Citizen,” said Lt. Scott Hart, who oversees the program at the city’s northeast patrol.

The hook books are accessible throughout the department, although they don’t work yet on in-car computers. Instead, an interactive map is available to show where burglary offenders with active warrants were last seen.

“It really helps support the beat officer,” said Sgt. Louis Felini, supervisor of a plainclothes unit that targets burglars and robbers. “You’re putting a face out there to remember.”

The southeast patrol is tracking more than 400 burglary offenders.

They include David Graham, a convicted burglar known to police as “Diamond Dave.” Prison officials released him from a drug treatment program in July.

Recently, a tip led officers to Graham’s whereabouts as he slept inside an abandoned van in the junk-filled backyard of a squalid Pleasant Grove home. Police arrested him on a probation violation warrant for burglary and drug charges.

“I didn’t even know I had a warrant,” said the glassy-eyed Graham, who denied that he does drugs or steals anymore.

Or consider the case of Broderick Merritt.

Merritt received probation for attempted burglary and robbery in 2008. In October, prosecutors sought to revoke Merritt’s probation because he violated the terms, including failing to report to his probation officer and not paying fees.

His arrest warrant popped onto Officer Matthew Bacon’s radar during a routine check. Merritt had been wanted for two days when officers captured him; in the past, it could’ve taken months.

“You might not even have known that he had a warrant unless you ran across him,” said Bacon, who has made about 30 arrests using information gleaned from the hook books.

Merritt then spent about two weeks in jail before prosecutors agreed that he should continue on probation.

At the southeast patrol, the average burglary offender monitored in the hook book spends about 21 days in jail, with many spending far less. But police count every day in jail as a small victory, because that’s one day when offenders can’t commit new crimes.

“There’s nothing we can really do about it,” Bacon said. “We can only do our job.”

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