NORCO--Regional investigative center get gaming grant
It’s been a long wait for Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin. Since it was first established in 2012, Martin has had to ask Lehigh County Commissioners, year after year, to fund a Regional Intelligence and Investigative Center (RIIC), which is also called a Regional Crime Center. Though he made its resources available to police departments in Northampton County, Lehigh County had to pick up the tab.
Good things come to those who wait. At their April 25 meeting, Northampton County’s nine-person Gaming Board voted unanimously to dish out $407,000 out of an expected $1.7 million in slots revenue this year so Northampton County police departments can finally integrate with their counterparts in Lehigh.
The main obstacle in Northampton County was then Sheriff Randy Miller, who drafted a memo objecting to the cost and suggesting he could establish a system county-wide. Ironically, the driving force for the RIIC is his successor, David Dalrymple.
Before replacing Miller, Dalrymple ran the Intelligence Section of the New Jersey State Police, and called the RIIC “a step beyond” what he saw in New Jersey. He spearheaded the drive for participation in the RIIC, with the unanimous backing of the Northampton County Chiefs of Police and the Northampton County District Attorney’s office.
Earlier this year, Northampton County DA John Morganelli announced that Northampton County had signed on to a digital forensics lab established at DeSales University by Lehigh County DA Jim Martin in 2011. At that time, Morganelli expressed his desire to join the Regional Crime Center, using gaming funds.
What is the RIIC?
Located in Allentown, the RIIC offers investigative case support, strategic analysis and situational awareness to county law enforcement. In addition, it provides expert assistance from crime analysts who can review millions of pieces of data from numerous incident reports, investigatory files and prison records to make connections that solve crimes. It even provides a daily blog for police officers, not about politics, but recent criminal activity.
Chairman Jay Finnigan told fellow members that he, Joe Kelly and Executive Director Karen Collis visited the RIIC. He spoke of armed robbers using bicycles they would stash in SUVs to hit various convenience stores in both counties. Information developed by the RIIC led to their apprehension.
Joe Kelly said what he likes about the Regional Crime Center is that it provides police officers with access to data. “Information is power,” he said. Kelly was really impressed at the information that can be gleaned from county jails, calling it a treasure trove. He added that the RIIC “does make us safer.” But he cautioned that though he will support the funding for integration, annual supporting costs should come from the county.
Sheriff Dalrymple told the board that the county’s police departments currently use a “Cobra” system, which he called a passive system that simply points you in the right direction. In contrast, the RIIC is active, and provides instant access to reports from Northampton County’s 30 police departments, Lehigh County’s 17 police departments, state and federal agencies, and data from both county jails.
$2.2 M sought
The Regional Crime Center was one of just $2.2 million in applications for grants from slots revenue. That is projected at just $1.7 million this year. By law, the first round of grants must go to Bethlehem, Northampton County and the five municipalities surrounding Bethlehem. These are Hanover Township, Bethlehem Township, Lower Saucon Township, Freemansburg and Hellertown. To be successful, they must show they’ve been impacted by gambling. If any money is left over, it can be awarded to other municipalities.
The Gaming Board expects to have about $200,000 left to distribute, and will be inviting Northampton County’s remaining municipalities to submit grant applications of up to $25,000, which will be awarded later in the year.
The nine-person board includes Joe Kelly (Bethlehem), Tom Nolan (Bethlehem Township), Gerald Yob (Freemansburg), Jay Finnigan (Hanover), Dave Heintzelman (Hellertown), Dave Willard (Lower Saucon), Tony Pristash (Northampton), John Dally (Pen Argyl) and James Pennington (Lower Nazareth). Karen Collis is the Executive Director.