Nearly a decade ago, revered Mesa police sergeant Lance Heivilin had a vision for improving criminal investigations through an information sharing process not just within the city's jurisdiction, but on a regional basis.
Now, a larger and expanded operations center he conceived that first became a reality in 2007 on a smaller scale as the East Valley Gang and Criminal Information Fusion Center, will bear his name.
On Wednesday, the Sergeant Lance Heivilin East Valley Gang and Criminal Information Center was dedicated on the fourth floor of the Mesa Police Department's headquarters with numerous officials from the East Valley and state law enforcement agencies present. Through the center, they are part of streamlining the criminal investigation information gathering and sharing process to solve crimes.
The fusion center's space and computer systems anchored by COPLINK, referred to as the Google for law enforcement agencies, allows police departments to look through the reports of other agencies. It was helped along by a recent $250,000 grant from the Arizona Attorney General's Office. The newly upgraded center will include about five times the space (1,200-square-feet) that it formerly had on the third floor of Mesa police headquarters and twice the number of work stations (16) from its former space.
"It's (COPLINK) our bread and butter," said Chandler police Detective Mike Sloboda, who works in the center and was sifting through a list of names and addresses on his computer screen. "It lets us search everybody's database of reports and connect the dots."
Heivilin, who died of cancer at age 40 in January 2011, became a recognized expert of information sharing among law enforcement after he suffered a back injury on the job. Shortly before his death, Heivilin took his knowledge as a consultant to the San Francisco Police Department under then former Mesa police Chief George Gascón, who now serves as the San Francisco District Attorney.
The East Valley fusion center, which also produces an electronic bi-weekly newsletter to distribute among about 5,000 law enforcement officers on the streets in addition to numerous other databases showing criminals who need to be identified and located quickly, is following suit of what law enforcement agencies in other parts of the state did a number of years ago. It is a transformation of a once-closed culture of East Valley law enforcement agencies that kept information from investigations close to the vest.
"Before, officers were afraid that sharing information would hurt the integrity of their case and someone else would make the arrest," said Mesa police Sgt. Chuck Trapani. "Now, we're narrowing criminal suspects down by putting key words in search like bald head, tattoos on arm and the type of car they drive. Apache Junction put information on a criminal in the system recently, and within two days, Mesa said they had arrested him in another crime. For example, a bank robber doesn't just rob banks in one city. He'll go to another city and rob another bank. Each department has a piece of the puzzle in solving these crimes."
Gilbert police Chief Tim Dorn said, "We don't care who gets the credit. We care about the bad guys going to jail."
Overall, the fusion center houses police officials from seven police jurisdictions throughout the East Valley as well as a representative from Maricopa County Adult Probation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and a representative from the Department of Homeland Security.
The Apache Junction Police Department and Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Police Department recently became members of the fusion center.
"It's not about the room, but the people in the room," said Mesa police chief Frank Milstead. "Something like this doesn't happen without a lot of mayors, council members and departments working together. The key to making this a success is relationships and communication."
Among the databases available to law enforcement are HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas) that contain photographs and information from drug dealers; RMIN (Rocky Mountain Information Network) containing information about criminals in Colorado, Utah, Montana and Idaho; and AZTIC (Arizona Crime and Terrorism Information Center).
"We want to make it as uncomfortable as possible for bad people to live in our cities," Milstead said.
Also at the center's dedication ceremonies were Heivilin's widow, Jennae Heivilin, their children, and his brother, Myles Heivilin, a police detective in Arvada, Colo., who said it helped having a brother like Lance in his capacity as Colorado has nothing like a fusion center.
"Having a center like this was something he talked about all the time," Jennae Heivilin said.
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