- The Washington Times - Friday, October 11, 2002

Law enforcement authorities yesterday opened a national hot line 888/324-9800 manned by the FBI for people who want to report information on the sniper attacks that began eight days ago in the metropolitan Washington area.
Police officials said the hot line, which is a consolidation of the local police tip lines, will better streamline leads local and federal authorities receive on the attacks that have left seven persons dead and two others wounded.
A $350,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and indictment of the gunman or gunmen.
As of last night, FBI officials said they had received at least 500 credible leads since early yesterday morning, when the hot line opened. By the middle of the day, the volume of calls became so heavy the FBI's phone system temporarily crashed, several agents said.
Agents quickly repaired the telephone system and added 20 more phone lines to better handle the high volume of calls. A total of 44 lines are being used to receive tips, officials said. They could not say how many calls the agents received since the hot line opened.
"The volume has been extremely heavy," said Chris Murray, a spokesman for the FBI Washington field office. "We've received at least 500 leads, and we're working through them."
Mr. Murray said the nationwide hot line was opened yesterday because "it became clear to investigators over the last few days that the sniper or snipers had begun to move all over the region."
The sniper has struck in the District, Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland, and Prince William and Spotsylvania counties in Virginia.
Local police officials said "technical and political" factors delayed the consolidation but declined to comment further.
Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose said police have more than 1,800 credible leads and are hoping to get even more with the new hot line.
"We are pleased with the ability to add resources and to bring things in to make a difference," Chief Moose said. "The FBI is the best phone-answering service for this case, bar none."
The FBI has a system in place that makes it easier for its agents to disseminate leads to the four police jurisdictions that are investigating the shootings.
Once a call comes in, an agent fills out a form and passes it on to the screening desk, where other agents review the information. The tip is then entered into the FBI's Rapid Start system, which assigns the tip a case number. Then, the case number is assigned to an FBI agent to conduct a follow up or is handed over to the appropriate jurisdiction to investigate.
Before the tip lines were consolidated, local police departments had received more than 8,000 tips. The problem, police officials said, was that each department has its own way of handling leads or tips and has a difficult time sharing the information with other jurisdictions.
For example, tip takers in Montgomery County use FBI forms and computer software to categorize and distribute information to investigators. An operator in Prince George's County takes handwritten notes and walks them over to the homicide division.
"This way all the information will be centralized and it will be easier to disseminate information to the proper jurisdictions," Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said. "We're going to do whatever it takes to catch the killer."


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