Database Aids Fight Against Crime

Industry group teams up with the FBI to build a retail-crimes database to help businesses and law enforcement solve and prevent robberies and burglaries
The National Retail Federation is building a database that retailers and law-enforcement agencies can access to gather infor- mation on organized retail crime and petty theft. These two problems account for between $15 billion and $30 billion in merchandise losses annually, the industry group estimates.

The Retail Loss Prevention Intelligence Network database, referred to as RL-PIN, "will allow retailers to look at potential trends at the local, state, and federal level to see what types of items are being stolen and where," says Richard Garodnick, an intelligence analyst with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's criminal investigative division. The database is scheduled for release later this year, and the National Retail Federation will host it.

RL-PIN will house data on burglaries, fraud, and robberies that have occurred at stores throughout the country. Retailers will upload information to RL-PIN from their proprietary databases using XML, says Joseph LaRocca, VP for loss prevention at the National Retail Federation. This is to ensure that the information in the data repository can be integrated with systems used by law enforcement, government, and other third-party databases, such as those from LexisNexis or ChoicePoint Inc., on which retailers often depend, LaRocca says.

Law-enforcement agencies and retailers will be able to search the data using keywords to find information on specific regions, stores, and even brands. The data could help identify patterns among the crimes, making it easier to prevent and solve them.

Video feedHere's how: Suppose a Los Angeles County store reports to RL-PIN that $1,000 worth of tools has been stolen, and the store's video-surveillance camera has filmed an individual carrying the tools getting into a black 1995 Honda Accord. A week later, a store in neighboring Orange County, Calif., files a report that $400 worth of tools has been stolen and that its surveillance camera filmed a suspect with the merchandise getting into a black Honda Accord in the store's parking lot.

Through RL-PIN, law enforcement could analyze these two isolated reports to determine patterns, collect evidence, and, it's hoped, solve the crime. Typically, police and retailers in two different jurisdictions "don't share information, so they don't immediately realize it's the same group hitting both stores," says LaRocca, who joined the National Retail Federation in January to take on the project.

The FBI and local law-enforcement agencies are providing guidance as the National Retail Federation develops RL-PIN. The data repository is being spearheaded by retailers such as Best Buy, CVS Pharmacy, Game Stop, HEB Grocery, Limited Brands, Macy's, Sears, Sterling Jewelers, and Target.

Funding for the data repository will come from subscription fees members pay to access RL-PIN. Member companies will access the database using secure passwords.

This week, the National Retail Federation will launch RL-PIN's Web portal, which will provide information on the database and include membership information.

Later this year, the federation will launch the first phase of the database, with search and data-upload capabilities, which is expected to cost between $50,000 and $75,000. Software packages from i2 Technologies, Oracle, and Microsoft are being considered.

The second phase, slated for spring 2006, will add data-entry and search capabilities specific to other industries, such as restaurants and transportation. That way, a trucking company could use the database to search for thefts of trailers. Some time later, the federation will add customized data entry and Web interfaces for each member company.

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