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Internet becoming DragNet in Provo

Some cops these days think more like Bill Gates than Joe Friday.

Shortly after a man robbed a Provo bank in December, the face of a suspect was on display for all to see.Police placed the Zions Bank surveillance camera photo of the smiling, clean-cut robbery suspect on the Provo Police Department Web site, (www.provo.org).

It didn't take long for the police hotline to ring. The suspect's probation officer called. So did a former employer, as well as some of the man's acquaintances.

"We got a hit and scored the first time up," Lt. Greg Du Val said.

Police traced the man to Las Vegas, where the FBI had a suspect in three armed robberies whose description matched that of the one in Provo. The FBI pulled the photo from the Internet and used it to positively identify the man. He remains in custody in Las Vegas.

A dragnet cast on the Internet stretches a long way. And use of the World Wide Web is catching on among Wasatch Front police departments. Call it DragNet or NetCop.

Provo detectives were surprised but pleased by the swift conclusion to the Dec. 26 robbery at the bank inside Smith's Food & Drug.

"It's a great tool. It's so immediate and so quick," said Provo Police Capt. Keith Teuscher, noting other agencies contacted Provo for insight into Internet use.

Provo information systems analyst Steve Bulkley loaded the video into the computer and e-mailed copies to other police departments, making the sharp, first-generation photos instantly available. Using an image capture card, Bulkley said, he can go from video to the Internet in 10 minutes.

Bad guys can't even get out of Dodge City that fast. The most-wanted sign is posted on the saloon post before the posse is even assembled.

Provo Police might be the first law enforcement agency in the state to use a surveillance photo on the Internet to nab a robbery suspect, but it's not the only one to recognize the Internet's crime-solving value.

Salt Lake City and Ogden police have Web sites, although they have yet to use them like Provo.

"That is something we are eventually going to do," said Jennifer Kibbie-Hiatt, a Salt Lake police information specialist. "It's definitely a law enforcement tool."

Most features on the department's section of the Salt Lake City home page (www.ci.slc.ut.us) are informational. But police do post a photo gallery of the city's most wanted criminals - mostly suspected murderers - and brief descriptions of the crimes. Salt Lake police also recently added a missing persons link.

To date, 20-year-old Erin M. Larsen is the only missing adult pictured on the page. In addition to her vital statistics, visitors to the site learn she was last seen Oct. 1 and might be somewhere near the U.S.-Mexico border. She is also believed to have a "serious, contagious medical condition."

Kibbie-Hiatt said Salt Lake police are testing the missing persons feature to see what kind of response they get. The police department's year-old Web site averages about 1,500 hits a month.

The Ogden Police Department is tinkering with its 6-week-old section on the Ogden City home page, (www.ogdencity.com).

"We're still experimenting and making changes and additions," Assistant Chief Steve Turner said.

Like Salt Lake City, Ogden has a most-wanted list with photos. It also intends to place crime scene photos on the site in the future.

All three police departments find the ability to instantaneously share data one of the Internet's most attractive features.

Provo, for example, posted photos of unidentified homicide victims in San Juan and Washington counties on its page. Police also placed a composite drawing of a suspect in a December rape near BYU.

"The medium for information exchange is going to be invaluable," Turner said.