September 10, 2018
Chapter 3: Information Analysts Track Information & Further Investigations
Information Analysts with AJS’ Peace and Justice Project compile leads and evidence lawyers and investigators learn through their fieldwork and from witnesses. With their digital database, they are able to analyze who a suspect might be and bring down criminal networks.
Bianca*, an information analyst with AJS’s Peace and Justice Project, has just arrived at her desk when her phone begins to furiously ring. The hushed voice of an AJS criminal investigator shares, “I’m investigating a murder and I just learned that the suspect is thin, in his 20s, with gelled hair.”
These might seem like insignificant pieces of information. But not to Bianca, who collects, organizes, and analyzes information to solve homicides in San Pedro Sula, an urban hub highly troubled by violence.
Bianca, a young woman whose degree in IT and concern for at-risk communities led her to AJS, is passionate about her work as an information analyst. She knows how essential uncovering clues on suspects is to solving homicides and protecting families. Unfortunately, a mixture of corruption, lack of training, and huge case backlogs means the Honduran police often fail to rigorously investigate murders. When the police do collect information, “they save it on paper, and when the paper was easily ruined, you lost your information,” Bianca observes. As a result, only 5% of homicides in Honduras are solved every year.
As an information analyst, Bianca works to change that statistic. Square glasses frame Bianca’s thoughtful face as she carefully records the clues AJS’s criminal investigator, Mateo, and lawyer glean from the community in a database. “I centralize all the information…whether it be news articles, photos, or Whatsapp (a popular messaging app) messages,” Bianca explains. She also does her own research, “reading newspapers, looking at online connections,” to track everything from nicknames that notorious criminals use to what cars they drive. She knows that one day these clues could be the key to solving a case and preventing another murderer from walking free.
With this wealth of information, Bianca provides direction as AJS criminal investigators and lawyers pursue the young man with the gelled hair. He is the last remaining suspect in a murder carried out by an older man with three accomplices. The lawyer and investigator think he is the son of the older man, but they aren’t sure of his name. So they call Bianca and she searches what links he has in the database.
Thin red and blue lines stretch across her computer screen, connecting pieces of evidence she has entered into the system. Typing up a single name may turn up a voice recording or a picture. Clicking that result may next lead to a report of a scuffle in an area of known gang activity.
As she analyzes the intersecting relationships, Bianca says, “I create a spider web.”
Bianca’s work is thorough but it doesn’t involve anything that the police don’t already have at their disposal. Yet the Honduran police have historically struggled to systematically organize clues in order to solve crimes. So Bianca’s team leads workshops, training the police how to use their own database.Bianca has seen noteworthy changes. Inspired by AJS’s example, “the police are digitizing [their records].” Every now and then the police will stop by to ask if Bianca has leads on information they need – a suspect’s contact or a phone number. She observes, “now they work in a community-oriented way,” paying more attention to the daily work of gathering evidence and building trust with informants like Rosa. Overall, investigations that, “used to take three months, now can be done in a week.”
These are remarkable changes, but Bianca is most proud of how cases like the investigation into the last missing suspect, “share hope with those who had lost it.”
Days turned into weeks as Bianca collected and organized information on the older man’s entire family tree. She eventually discovered the young man’s name was “Ivan.” But no one in the older man’s family had the name Ivan.
“It would have been easy to feel defeated,” Bianca acknowledges. But she says, “I went back to my desk…and started to investigate the [primary suspect’s] wife’s family.” Scanning the digital family tree, she found out that the main suspect’s wife had a son by another marriage. His name? Ivan.
Eventually, the spider web catches someone. Bianca and her team are currently awaiting this suspect’s trial.
These types of investigations result in more suspects identified and thus more perpetrators losing their power to terrorize communities. In the years Bianca’s AJS team has worked in several San Pedro Sula communities, they have solved murders at double the government’s success rate.
Solving these investigative puzzle often takes Bianca months. But for Bianca, it’s all worth it to, “bring hope and light to families who have already given up hope that their case has a resolution.”