PROBLEMATIC BEHAVIOR OR ACTIVITY
Despite the best efforts of pawn, secondhand, and metal-recycling dealers to avoid transactions involving stolen property, thieves still turn to these dealers to exchange their stolen property for cash. The volume of these transactions is quite high: In Portland in 2008, 1,200 such transactions occurred per month. The problem is compounded by the fact that the I-5 corridor offers thieves easy access to other jurisdictions.
IMPACT ON THE COMMUNITY
Almost everyone in a community is affected at one time or another by a property crime, burglary, robbery, or car prowl. We are all affected by shoplifting, which could result in higher prices. All of these activities make our communities less livable. With law enforcement resources stretched to the maximum, only a small portion of those resources can be devoted to property crimes. Those resources need to be more effectively used to identify thieves and stolen property.
The Regional Automated Property Information Database (RAPID) was developed as an automated system to help police identify thieves and stolen property. RAPID is an encrypted access Internet-based system owned by the Portland Police Bureau, with servers located in the Law Enforcement Data Systems (LEDS) facility in Salem, using software provided by Business Watch International. RAPID is available for investigative purposes at no charge to any law enforcement agency that is not enrolled in a similar system. If an agency desires to be a contributor and have local dealers reporting into RAPID, the agency pays a small population-based fee that covers software licensing and system fees.
Dealers enter their transactions directly into RAPID on a daily basis. The transaction information includes the customer’s name, current address, phone number, physical identifiers, ID and thumbprint images, and can include item images. The dealers provide descriptions of the property, including any serial numbers or engravings.
RAPID does nightly comparisons of all serial-numbered items in the system with newly uploaded files from the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), LEDS, and the Washington Crime Information Center (WACIC). Matches on stolen property are then confirmed by the agency where the property is located. Investigators are able to search RAPID by property descriptions or suspect names or descriptions. If no results are found, the investigator can have RAPID automatically notify them by e-mail, text, or pager message if the item or person does appear in RAPID.
RAPID has a variety of other functions and searches to assist investigators. The system generates a Top Pawner/Seller report providing information that can direct investigators to potential suspects. It has eBay and Craigslist search functions. RAPID also creates notifications about customers who are on the Family Watch Dog’s national list of sexual predators who have used a different address from their registered address. Another feature of RAPID is HomeWatch, which provides citizens a secure online place to store all of their property information, including serial numbers and photos. Only the person creating the HomeWatch entry can access the information. In the event of a loss, an individual can quickly access and send property information to law enforcement or to an insurance company.
BASED ON RESEARCH
RAPID is the name given to BWI-provided software that was modified to meet the Portland Police Bureau specifications. The specifications were developed by analyzing best practices information from a wide number of transaction reporting systems in use at the time (2005-2007). The contract for RAPID was awarded to BWI through a competitive request for proposals in 2008. Since then, the RAPID name is now used in most instances where the BWI software is being used, including Maryland, Florida, Washington, DC, Michigan, and in Canada. Information on BWI is available here.
RAPID is funded by the Portland Police Bureau and the system fees paid by agencies who are contributors to the database. Even though the fees are relatively small, funding is being sought to reduce the cost to all agencies who have dealers reporting into RAPID.
RAPID is currently used by agencies serving 83 percent of the population of Oregon (Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, and Lane Counties and the cities of Salem, Coos Bay, Newberg, McMinnville, and North Bend) and Clark County in Washington (Vancouver, Battle Ground, and Hazel Dell). The RAPID servers also contain dealer transaction information from a number of agencies outside of Oregon and Washington, including Sacramento County, California; Durango, Colorado; and Hawaii. By using RAPID to identify stolen property in a dealer’s possession and identifying the thieves selling the property, law enforcement is able to recover the property for victims and prosecute the thieves. The use of the database also deters people from selling to dealers, therefore removing a cash source from thieves.
Portland has experienced a fourfold increase in property recoveries. Prior to using RAPID we would average about 4 recoveries per month from our pawn and secondhand dealers. Using RAPID, we now average about 4 recoveries per week. This may be an incentive for thieves to live and steal in places where they are not easily identified by RAPID.
CRITICAL SUCCESS FACTORS
RAPID is an extremely useful and time-saving tool for law enforcement agencies, especially those that do not have dealers in their jurisdiction but need to find stolen property that may have been used in transactions at dealers in other agencies. Because RAPID was created to be a tool and not a source of revenue, RAPID is almost always 50 percent less expensive than any other transaction-gathering system on the market. Because RAPID is Internet-based, it is always accessible to officers whether they are in their office or in their vehicle.
Because Oregon has a weak used goods law, it has been necessary to help each new contributor agency to write or rewrite its city code to require RAPID reporting. Some agencies already had some sort of secondhand dealer code and the changes were made after public input. In some areas, there were no previous reporting requirements and the dealers were not meeting the minimum state reporting requirements for used goods or for the newer secondhand precious metal dealers law. These agencies required or continue to require a great deal of work with the public to fully implement RAPID. On the other hand, Washington State has a fairly comprehensive secondhand dealer law that allows an agency to just declare how the agency wants reporting to be done. The Washington agencies adopt the state law and add their own additional reporting requirements and definitions of regulated property. Introducing RAPID to agencies already using another reporting system has been difficult despite the fact that RAPID has more features and costs 50 percent less to use.
RAPID cannot offer certain incentives to agencies or leadership to secure the use of RAPID. However, because the system is owned by law enforcement, RAPID accesses NCIC as well as the LEDS and WACIC stolen-article files, all of which are not available to entities outside of law enforcement. The goal has always been to use the system statewide, so that agencies have access to its transaction information, regardless of how hard thieves try to hide their activity.