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ViCAP
Fighting Violent Crime for 25 Years

08/26/10

Man in handcuffs  
   
When serial killers or rapists strike in different communities or even across multiple states, it may be hard to identify and capture them—because information about their crimes is stored separately in the files of various local police agencies.

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But for the past 25 years, the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, or ViCAP, has been used by state and local law enforcement across the nation precisely to help find and stop such dangerous villains by drawing links between their seemingly unconnected crimes.

ViCAP serves as the national repository for violent crimes, specifically those involving homicides, sexual assaults, missing persons, and unidentified human remains. The ViCAP Web National Crime Database is not available to the general public or the media—it’s strictly for law enforcement. Its information—obtainable through a secure website since 2008—is protected by strong encryption, controlled access, and strict adherence to federal privacy laws.

ViCAP is part of the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, and both operate under the auspices of our Critical Incident Response Group.

                ViCAP Case Scenario 

Because of privacy laws, we can’t describe a real-life case in ViCAP. But here’s a hypothetical scenario that shows how the process works:

A young woman in Portland, Maine who frequented a neighborhood gym, was sexually assaulted and murdered after being abducted one evening from the gym’s parking lot as she was leaving. Her body was found several days later in an abandoned lot within a mile of the gym. There were no witnesses. Police found traces of chloroform on the ground just outside the woman’s car. After investigating and clearing all of the woman’s known associates, Portland police entered the case into ViCAP Web. More

Parking lot

How it works. Investigators from participating agencies electronically enter in-depth data on their case directly into ViCAP Web. This can include details on the victim(s), type of trauma, weapons used, information about the suspect and any composite images, crime scene specifics, vehicle descriptions, modus operandi, and more.

Investigators can then search ViCAP Web for cases similar to theirs…anywhere in the United States. If any are found, investigators can read the details and—if they’re convinced there might actually be a link—reach out to the law enforcement agency point of contact for further discussion.

Meanwhile… At the ViCAP office in Virginia, FBI analysts review all incoming cases. First, they examine each submission to ensure the quality of the data. But then—based on public safety concerns and requests from investigators—they delve deeper into certain cases, looking for similarities, searching other FBI and non-FBI databases, and preparing reports that offer fresh investigative leads.

Where it all began. It’s only fitting that the idea for ViCAP—an investigative aid primarily intended for state and local law enforcement—came from a local police officer. In the 1970s, a Los Angeles Police Department homicide investigator named Pierce Brooks was hunting through major city newspapers at the public library for articles on murders similar to the ones he was investigating. He thought, “What if this information was contained in a searchable system?” He pitched his idea to the Department of Justice, and in the summer of 1985, Brooks became ViCAP’s first program manager.

Since then, over 4,000 law enforcement agencies have submitted more than 90,000 individual cases. For privacy reasons, we can’t discuss operational successes, but we can tell you there have been an untold number of leads generated for cases that might have otherwise gone cold. Countless suspects have been identified. And many missing persons have been located and unidentified human remains given names, thus bringing closure to their families. 

Getting Connected to ViCAP
(Law Enforcement Only)  

1. Select an agency point of contact to serve as the link between FBI-ViCAP and the users within your agency.

2. Obtain individual LEO accounts for all users (LEO stands for Law Enforcement Online, a secure computer network for law enforcement).

3. Contact FBI-ViCAP at vicap@leo.gov to request access to ViCAP Web.

Major J.R. Burton of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, who is currently serving as chairman of the ViCAP National Advisory Board and who has been using the system for the past 15 years, said, “ViCAP gives local and state investigators real advantages—direct access to a national database, analytical support to help identify a suspect, and connectivity to the cases of law enforcement agencies nationwide.”

In short, ViCAP is a win-win resource—for the agencies that use it to solve cases and for members of the public who are better protected at the end of the day.

Resources:
- ViCAP Goes Online

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