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How Thomson Reuters CLEAR online investigation software
helped Detroit police find an abducted child

Ask any police officer: they’ll tell you that speed means everything in an investigation where you’re racing against the clock. The more hours spent chasing dead-end leads, the more dangerous a life-or-death situation becomes.

An Amber Alert case in Detroit on November 15, 2016, shows that in time-critical situations, local police need up-to-date, in-depth information to make the right decisions. When the stakes are high – in this case, with the life of an infant at stake – it’s important for all types of public safety officials to have the tools at their disposal to make correct calls when there is no time for errors.

Abduction and first response

The case involved an 11-month-old child who had been placed into foster care. The birth mother was not allowed unsupervised visits with the child. She and the foster mother were together at a doctor’s appointment in a local hospital at approximately 2 PM that day – the child has sickle cell anemia and needs regular medical treatment. The birth mother then asked the foster mother to drop her off around the intersection of Sanilac St. and Moross Rd. in Detroit, near Interstate 94. When the birth mother went into the back seat to say goodbye to the child, she instead grabbed the infant and fled on foot down the street.

The foster mother chased after the birth mother but soon lost sight of her. After she called 911, officers from the 9th Precinct arrived at the scene. They realized that it was a time-sensitive missing person issue, for reasons including the child’s young age and medical condition – she required medication twice a day. And the foster mother believed that the biological mother didn’t have the medication.

Police canvassed the nearby area, started interviewing known associates of the birth mother, and an Amber Alert was issued around 5 PM. Around that time, Sergeant Jason Sloan was contacted as part of a broadening investigation that was bringing in state and federal law enforcement units. “We started to search the area based on information we could receive from anything – police reports filed, family members, old addresses. We began to run everything to ground the best that we could, in an attempt to locate her,” he said.

How the Detroit Police Department used CLEAR to locate the suspect

As Sergeant Sloan pulled every report that the police department had in relation to the mother, CLEAR provided him with numerous past addresses, some of which were included on utility bills in the birth mother’s name. Police officers began working any addresses they received, going house by house.

The big break came when a 9th Precinct Sergeant told Sergeant Sloan that he’d been in prior contact with the birth mother as part of the foster care situation, and that she had called him via a cell phone. Entering that phone number into CLEAR turned up an unfamiliar name and an address. Sergeant Sloan had a gut feeling that it could be a valuable lead.

Sergeant Sloan and Officer Bolden made their way to the previously unknown address, which was on the East Side of Detroit. “We thought it would be the best address to start with,” Officer Bolden said. While the police scanner was calling out various addresses for officers to investigate, “we had a feeling that this was the house we should go to first.”

Resolving the situation

At the door, the officers met a distraught young woman who, when asked if the birth mother was there, “looked down and exhaled,” Sergeant Sloan said. “I knew then [she] was in the house.” The young woman allowed the officers to enter.

The situation was still fluid and potentially risky. Sergeant Sloan and Officer Bolden were the only officers in the building at the time. The mother was in an upstairs bedroom with her back against the door, and other young men were in the room as well. Sergeant Sloan and Officer Bolden entered the bedroom to find the mother holding the child to her chest, but the officers couldn’t tell if the child was breathing. While they knew that the child had been taken from a medical center, they did not know the particulars of the infant’s medical condition.

Using de-escalation techniques to calm everyone in the room, the officers managed to get the mother downstairs into the living room, where the officers felt more secure. “We wanted to get to a safe spot within the home,” Officer Bolden said.

EMS and backup police soon arrived. Once EMS responders convinced the birth mother to let them examine the baby, they moved the child from the residence to the EMS vehicle. The child was immediately transported to the area hospital, was administered her medication, and was released back to the foster mother. At the same time, officers placed the birth mother into custody. (She would later be charged with one count of kidnapping - child enticement.)

All told, it was roughly seven hours from the child’s abduction to her rescue, which occurred around 10 PM. The Detroit Police Department believes their quick response may not have happened without CLEAR. “There’s no doubt in my mind that CLEAR made it possible in this case to get the job done, to locate the baby, to get medical treatment and attention,” Sergeant Sloan said. “I don’t know if there’s another source that would have gotten us to where we needed to be.”

CLEAR: Having the right tools

The Detroit Police Department began using CLEAR only a few months before the abduction, in August 2016. They had been using other databases prior to this, but Sergeant Sloan said the difference has been substantial in terms of the quality of information the department now receives.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, CLEAR is hands-down the best database we have. It’s the most up-to-date, especially as it relates to cell phones and subscriber information,” he said. “Content and accuracy are what’s most important. Information that’s six years old or even months old isn’t good enough. We need things up to date now; that’s what saves lives.”

What Officer Bolden likes about CLEAR is the variety of information it provides him, allowing him to pursue avenues of investigation that he may not have considered otherwise. For instance, CLEAR lists a great variety of possible related contacts to a suspect. “That works for me – maybe their school friends are still around,” he said. “Every bit of information helps me that much more. That night, CLEAR did that for us.”

For Chief of Police James Craig, CLEAR lets his force to do more with less. Where the Detroit Police Department once had around 5,500 officers, the force now roughly stands at 2,500. “In order to be as effective as we are, we need to move quickly, especially if a life depends on it,” he said. “When you look at this situation and how quickly our investigators were able to get the information and get it out, that mattered. There’s no doubt that the accurate and timely data that Sergeant Sloan had at his disposal was a reason that a life was saved. Had it not been for CLEAR, who knows what we would be talking about now.”

Thomson Reuters CLEAR. Trusted for critical investigations.

Customers like the Detroit Police Department trust Thomson Reuters CLEAR online investigation software to deliver current and accurate data to connect the most disconnected leads and information. When resources are limited, the single CLEAR interface creates investigative efficiencies and delivers trusted results.

CLEAR was built with law enforcement and government investigations in mind. With a combination of public and proprietary public records and real-time information, customers are confident in the results they get, while being efficient and cost-effective. Expanding beyond law enforcement, CLEAR helps conduct corporate due diligence, investigate government and healthcare fraud, and prevent money laundering.

Powered by real-time gateways and a network of current and historical data, CLEAR combines vast collections of public records information to build links between people and businesses. Users can be more efficient in investigative searching by filtering unnecessary data by date range, age, and other critical fact distinctions, as well as through CLEAR entity resolution, which consolidates and deduplicates search results – delivering the most relevant information for easy review.

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