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News Sheriff's Office turning to technology to fight crime

Technology may be the next best defense for the Macon County Sheriff's Office. According to a report giving by Sheriff Robert Holland to the Board of Commissioners last week, a national program called LeadsOnline could be an essential crime-fighting tool for the area.

Holland informed the board that after a 30-day trial of LeadsOnline, the Sheriff's Office was able to tap into the database, which is the largest online investigative system in the country, and solve a string of church break-ins which occurred in Macon County. The database lead officers to Bonita Springs, Fla., where the suspect had driven and pawned the items at a pawn shop. “We were able to go down to Bonita Springs and retrieve those materials because of LeadsOnline, and bring them back to Macon County,” said Holland. “We were also able to successfully prosecute that individual, and also solve some other break-ins in the area.”

According to Holland, he encouraged the board to consider adopting an ordinance that required local pawn shops to use LeadsOnline to store information related to the items they receive. North Carolina state law already requires that all pawn shops record the same information asked of by LeadsOnline on a paper copy. Holland explained to commissioners that he has a deputy go around to all the pawn shops and collect the paper slips with the information, and then has to record it into the sheriff's office's database. “My investigator or my designee through the sheriff's office collects that information from each of the different facilities and businesses throughout the county and has to manually enter the data into the computer at our offices,” said Holland.

Because the information for the documentation already exists, by moving to the LeadsOnline program, the sheriff's office will have easier, more cost efficient access to the information and all the documentation will be a part of the national database providing law enforcement agencies with a central location for the information.

The program comes at no cost to business owners. LeadsOnline is designed to install the software into each business's computer system and train them on how to use it. The county would be paying for the program, which is approximately $2,900 per year. “We are paying double what it is going to cost us to have this program in the man hours for one of my deputies to go out and collect the information and manually type it in at our office,” said Holland.

Holland said that he had been speaking with Franklin Police Chief David Adams and was under the impression that he would soon be going before the Town Board requesting the Town Police be placed on the same program. Law enforcement agencies in surrounding counties are already using LeadsOnline.

During last Tuesday's meeting, Holland informed the board that he did not want any action taken that night. “I am not asking you to decide anything tonight,” said Holland. “I actually want more time to go around and talk to every shop owner and hopefully get them to want to take part in the program voluntarily.”

Commissioner Bobby Kuppers said that while he supported the program and what it could mean for crime-fighting in Macon County, he was initially hesitant because he wanted to make sure that the implementation process wouldn't place a burden on store owners. Kuppers told Holland that he understood the program's software was free, but said he was concerned about what that meant for old-fashioned store owners who just liked using a pencil and paper and didn't keep computer records. “I don't want to drop a requirement on somebody when I don't know how much it costs,” said Kuppers. “I am sure there is someone in Macon County who doesn't have a computer and I don't want to make an ordinance that requires them to go out and buy one.”

Holland plans to meet with business owners in the county and report back to commissioners in November.


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