Column: Crime prevention’s wave of the future

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 4, 2002

This week I had the opportunity to meet with Minnesota public safety officials to take a virtual tour of CriMNet, the groundbreaking criminal justice data system I worked to fund last session.

Recent high-profile cases like Donald Blom’s abduction of Katie Poirier have painfully illustrated the need to combine all relevant information on crime suspects, especially those with an extensive criminal background or multiple identities.

Last year the legislature significantly contributed toward that goal by investing $27 million in CriMNet, a program that will eventually allow police in any part of the state to instantly access a suspect’s complete criminal history.

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When completed, it will offer city, county, state and federal information on prior arrests, juvenile detention, court verdicts, prosecution, defense, jail or prison sentences and probation. The CriMNet program is serving as a national model of crime prevention efficiency.

In theory alone, CriMNet was easy to support. As a member of the Senate Crime Prevention Committee, I was proud to be a lead voice for last session’s investment and I am pushing the legislature to consider bonding for further investments this year.

But, to actually see the project up and running this week proved beyond a doubt that we made a worthwhile investment. As the stakes of public safety have risen over the past year, I feel good knowing we are growing better prepared through projects like this.

As part of the overall CriMNet endeavor, the state is also working to compile photographs of known criminals. MRAP, the Minnesota Repository of Arrest Photos, will allow police to put together a virtual lineup of mug shots in a matter of minutes.

The CriMNet officials who demonstrated the computer system and provided a status report for me this week, say comprehensive background files like these are so valuable some law enforcement agencies will forego squad cars and other basics in order to purchase them.

I am so proud of the achievements in information sharing that this project has delivered. Each added bit of knowledge we can provide to our law enforcement officers reduces the size of the mesh in their nets. Every piece of data we can share on these perpetrators decreases the chances that they’ll slip through our grasp again.

In all, the state has contributed $57 million to the CriMNet effort so far. Officials with the program say they will need approximately $200 million more to take CriMNet from the prototype stage to a fully operational form throughout the state. My fellow lawmakers and I expect to receive a sizeable funding request next session in order to continue progress on the project.

I for one believe the work that has gone into CriMNet is amazing and I am more committed than ever to seeing it through.

Sen. Grace Schwab, R-Albert Lea, represents Freeborn County and the western part of Mower County in the state senate.