Intelligence center in the works

MALONE – Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne is pushing for a five-county intelligence-sharing center to help law-enforcement agencies in the North Country better use their resources.

The center would serve as a data hub for agencies in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties. Champagne told Franklin County legislators he’d like the center to have a home in Malone, but his main goal is to see it happen soon.

“The thing with the intelligence center is, I don’t really care where it is; I just want it to be somewhere in upstate New York,” Champagne said. “I feel these intelligence centers are tremendous because they help law enforcement connect the dots. All of the agencies have less manpower, less resources. They need to be more effective, more efficient.”

Champagne said New York City’s crime rate has been reduced largely through the implementation of an intelligence center, which helped law-enforcement personnel track crimes by sharing information.

“We’re in that situation, where there just isn’t enough communication between St. Lawrence and Clinton counties about things like burglaries or heroin flow,” Champagne said. “We need intel centers that are not 200 or 300 miles away. Right now, Westchester has one, Utica has one, Albany has one, and New York City has one. Everyone except the North Country has one.”

Champagne added that recent burglaries in the North Country are a prime example of why information sharing is important.

“All you have to do is look at some of the people that we’ve had where we’ve all of a sudden connected the dots,” Champagne said. “The five burglaries they had in St. Lawrence County were directly related to the eight we had in Franklin County, because we have some of the same people.”

Money to hire two analysts and a director to staff the center has been set aside by the U.S. Department of Criminal Justice Services. The DCJS is the lead agency in dealing with criminal justice funding. Creating intelligence centers is a new role for the agency, which also certifies police departments and handles fingerprint records.

A location for the intelligence center is yet to be determined. Champagne suggested renting the U.S. Army Reserve Center building on Finney Boulevard in Malone. Other uses legislators have considered for that building include homeless services and a 911 hub.

“I really need direction from the board, and need the board to be unanimous in that direction,” Champagne said. “The overall caveat is, if I went and obtained that building for law-enforcement purposes, we have to use that building forever for law-enforcement purposes. If we go and obtain that building for nurses, it has to be used for 30 years for the nurses.”

Champagne said there has been some discussion about using the building for mixed purposes, but he really wants to avoid the entities involved not being on the same page.

“All of the money I’m bringing to the table is free,” Champagne said. “It’s all (criminal) forfeiture money. I don’t want to put anyone in this position where we use this forfeiture money, then we violate the terms and conditions of the use from the federal government.”