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Case study

Prior Lake, Minnesota police department and CLEAR

How Thomson Reuters CLEAR helped identify a fugitive that was on the run for six years and finally put him behind bars

Prior Lake, Minnesota, is a small city just 20 miles southwest of downtown Minneapolis. It has a population of more than 25,000 and, according to the local newspaper, Prior Lake American, the city’s police force is stretched thin.

“The police department would need eight more officers to reach the average rate of police officer per thousand residents of similarly sized cities,” the paper writes. What’s more, the Twin Cities’ suburbs have boomed over the last few years, and along with the population growth, the crime rate has also climbed.

Prior Lake Police Department officials are constantly working to address staffing and resources issues and that’s why, as part of the department’s technology modernization, they have introduced a critical tool to support police officers’ investigations: Thomson Reuters CLEAR.

Prior Lake prides itself on being “a wonderful place to live, work, and play for a lifetime,” which is something that Chris Schaefer, a Prior Lake police officer, thinks about, especially on patrol. Recently, CLEAR helped the department quickly determine that an arrested suspect was using a false name and had multiple warrants against him in multiple states.

“If we didn’t have CLEAR, he would have been handed a citation and would have walked out of jail,” Schaefer says. “It’s like the super program – it seems like there is an infinite amount of data in there and it’s very user-friendly, too. The more that we use it here, the more comfortable we get with it. It makes things a lot easier for us in our job, and it’s saved us time.”

The story of the arrest began at about 9:00 p.m. When Officer Schaefer swung into the parking lot of a local fast food establishment, everything appeared normal. Then he noticed a vehicle parked in the back of the lot, far away from the main doors. As Schaefer drew closer, he saw there was someone inside.

When Schaefer began his routine inquiries of the lone occupant, he smelled alcohol and saw an open 12-pack of beer in the back seat. He then also saw that the car keys were easily within reach and could be used to start the car at any moment – a potentially dangerous situation.

“In Minnesota, you don’t have to be technically driving to get a DWI (driving while intoxicated/impaired),” Schaefer explains. “If you’re in physical control of the vehicle and those keys are right there on your person, you can be arrested for that.”

As the questioning continued, Schaefer’s suspicions grew. “I was having a casual conversation with him, and I just started to notice that his answers were really vague. ‘I’m just here’ is not a normal answer. A normal answer is, ‘My kids are inside and I’m waiting for them to come out’ or ‘I’m meeting a family member here.’ He just didn’t have any good answers,” the officer recalls. “We deal with a lot of people who, unfortunately, choose to lie to us about their identity to prevent having to go to jail on warrants or other outstanding matters. I’m pretty well-versed in people providing false information, and that was when the red flag started going off.”

After the suspect mumbled his name, gave a dubiously convenient birthday of 1/1/1981, and lied about owning the wallet in open view on the passenger seat, Schaefer’s next step was to call the registered owner of the vehicle, who turned out to be the suspect’s wife.

The name she provided for her husband did not match the name he had given, and she was uncooperative and belligerent on the phone. She came to the restaurant’s parking lot and started an altercation when she was not permitted to take the car. She also furtively confiscated the loose wallet. “That raised my suspicion again,” Schaefer says. “All of these small things are adding up.”

Schaefer called for backup and, while his colleague helped control the situation, he had time to check the name and birthdate he had been given in the standard police database. The results came back as “Not on File” in Minnesota, meaning there was no record of this person living or working in the state. As the suspect provided other names, birthdates, and states where he lived, the search results came back the same: “Not on File.”

Once the suspicious person was transported to the jail, he was fingerprinted. Those yielded no results because of the way they were taken.

The officers were stumped. They had put every bit of information they had into social media and didn’t come up with anything there either. They knew something was off, but they began to be concerned. What if they were wrongfully detaining someone?

As Schaefer resigned himself to merely issuing a ticket for providing a false name and releasing the suspect, the arrested man suddenly corrected the address listed on the citation. Schaefer quickly ran the new address through CLEAR.

That one piece of information yielded a real name and from that an accurate birthdate, both of which are required for a National Crime Information Center (NCIC) query or an interstate warrant check. The corrections officer ran the information through the system and the results yielded several warrant hits from different states.

The suspicious character in the restaurant’s parking lot wasn’t just a guy enjoying a couple of beers in the front seat of his car. He was a wanted criminal, charged with second-degree burglary, possession of burglary tools, and possession of stolen property. For six years he had been evading arrest and using false information and various aliases.

After spending a few weeks in custody in Prior Lake, he was extradited to Missouri. The Prior Lake Police Department has also been informed that other law enforcement agencies are looking into possible crimes and violations connected with this individual.

Schaefer finds a lot of satisfaction in bringing this criminal to justice, and credits CLEAR with being the critical factor in making it possible. “I’ve had a couple of good arrests, but this is the best one,” he says. “In the past, we didn’t have CLEAR – and now that we do, having the technology has been great. I love it!”

As Schaefer notes, the Prior Lake Police Department is a small agency and CLEAR allows officers to do a lot more investigative work on their own. “It goes to show, this program has a place in a big department or small,” he says. “The database works in different areas of law enforcement and it can be very helpful to even the small agencies and the regular street officer who’s investigating everything from a major crime to a small crime.”

Investigations

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