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Official: Eight years too long for crime-fighting tech to come online

N.C. Aware will let officers see if suspects have outstanding warrants – but only in three counties during a test year.

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DURHAM, N.C. — A beta version of a program that would allow state courts and law enforcement officers easier access to criminal and suspect information will launch next month in three counties.

Durham City Council member Eugune Brown said law enforcement agencies have been waiting for eight years for N.C. Aware to come online.

"I think it is a mandatory and certainly necessary tool that the magistrates, the judges and our police officers need badly, and we needed it years ago," Brown said.

The General Assembly first approved funding for N.C. Aware in 2000, and the pilot version will launch in Johnston, Harnett and Lee counties in June. The program will be launched statewide by late 2009.

Last week, Brown signed a letter to Gov. Mike Easley on behalf of the Durham Crime Council calling for greater state funding for crime-fighting technology. The letter cited N.C. Aware as a prime example of such underfunded programs.

"Apparently, the N.C. General Assembly does not believe NCAWARE is an 'important tool,'" the letter read. "Indeed, since 2000 ... the General Assembly has only funded NCAWARE once. That was in 2005 and was for $500,000 out of a nearly $19 billion budget."

According to the letter, grants covered more than $2.4 million in funding for N.C. Aware in 2004 and 2005.

Officials with the Administrative Office of the Courts, which has organized N.C. Aware, admitted that a lack of funding has presented difficulty. It has been hard to keep staff members for long, they said.

AOC officials said a lot of time was required to get cooperation from all the law enforcement agencies in North Carolina, including the State Bureau of Investigation, state Department of Motor Vehicles, sheriffs' offices and police departments.

N.C. Aware will compile all the arrest warrants issued in the state into an Internet-based system, rather than a paper-based magistrate system. Agents can check instantly if suspects have any outstanding warrants or criminal summonses.

Brown said the need for such coordinated programs has been highlighted by recent high-profile crimes, including the Jan. 18 shooting death of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato and the March 5 murder of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill senior Eve Carson.

A teenaged suspect in both homicides, Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., was put on probation for breaking-and-entering and larceny charges two days before Mahato's death and was arrested twice on burglary and theft charges before Carson's death.

AOC officials said N.C. Aware does not keep track of probation but could be made to – with the right funding.

"This is very serious. It needs to become a priority," Brown said. "The time for talk is over. What we need now is action, and we need funding, and we need to complete this program."


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