Police Shrug at ViCAP, FBI’s Crime-Solving Database


ProPublica looks into why the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (ViCAP) computer database, launched more than 30 years ago with the promise that it could help catch the nation's most violent offenders, is gathering dust. ViCAP was designed to link the evidence of unsolved crimes in the belief that some criminals' methods were unique enough to serve as a kind of behavioral DNA — allowing identification based on how a person acted, rather than their genetic make-up. Equally as important was the idea that local law enforcement agencies needed a way to better communicate with each other.

In the years since ViCAP was conceived, data-mining has grown vastly more sophisticated, and computing power has become cheaper and more readily available. That's what's striking about ViCAP today: the paucity of information it contains. Only about 1,400 police agencies in the U.S., out of roughly 18,000, participate in the system. The database receives reports from far less than 1 percent of the violent crimes committed annually. Three decades and an estimated $30 million later, the FBI's system remains stuck in the past.

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