On one recent day, Tucson detective Cynthia Butierez demonstrated that power in an office littered with paper and boxes of equipment. Using a regular desktop computer and Web browser, she logged onto Coplink to search for clues about a fraud suspect. She entered a name the suspect used on a bogus check. A second later, a list of real names came up, along with five incident reports.
She told the system to also search data warehouses built by Coplink in San Diego and Orange County, Calif. -- which have agreements to share with Tucson -- and came up with the name of a particular suspect, his age and a possible address. She asked the software to find the suspect's links to other people and incidents, and then to create a visual chart displaying the findings. Up popped a display with the suspect at the center and cartoon-like images of houses, buildings and people arrayed around him. A final click on one of the houses brought up the address of an apartment and several new names, leads she could follow.
"The power behind what we have discovered, what we can do with Coplink, is immense," Tucson police Chief Richard Miranda said. "The kinds of things you saw in the movies then, we're actually doing now."...
Three decades ago, Congress imposed limits on domestic intelligence activity after revelations that the FBI, Army, local police and others had misused their authority for years to build troves of personal dossiers and monitor political activists and other law-abiding Americans.
Miranda, the Tucson police chief, said there's no overstating the utility of Coplink for his force. But he too acknowledges that such power raises new questions about how to keep it in check and ensure that the trust people place in law enforcement is not misplaced.
"I don't want the people in my community to feel we're behind every little tree and surveilling them," he said. "If there's any kind of inkling that we're misusing our power and our technology, that trust will be destroyed."