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11/12/2009
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Data-Driven Crime Fighting

Law enforcement agencies adopt new tools in an effort to be more proactive in getting resources where they're most needed.

Data Impetus

In the corporate world, the impetus for improving data policy and procedures might be a delayed project or a lost sale. In law enforcement, it's sometimes much more dramatic.

Last year, the North Carolina legislature voted to fund the Criminal Justice Law Enforcement Automated Data Services (CJLEADS) project following the March 2008 slaying of University of North Carolina student body president Eve Carson. During the subsequent investigation, prosecutors learned that at least one suspect in the case, now under arrest, was on parole at the time of the slaying and had been in court just a few days before the crime.

The CJLEADS project seeks to reconcile and integrate data that's spread out across many systems and agencies so that known offenders don't slip through the cracks. "Right now that information is available but you have to log on to multiple systems to manually build that complete profile," says Kay Meyer, data integration manager in the Office of the State Controller, who is heading up the project for the state.

The project has two objectives. The first is to be able to generate a comprehensive picture of an offender that incorporates as much info as possible from the state's systems. The second is to provide a "watchlist" capability for criminal justice professionals to keep track of repeat offenders.

State officials are using data analysis technology from SAS Institute, which is headquartered in North Carolina. A data warehouse that stores some of the CJLEADS data is, for the time being, located in a SAS facility; other data from state agencies is accessed in real time. The project is slated for rollout starting next year and into 2011.

The North Carolina project involves justice system data--courts, probation, and parole, for example. Closer to the streets is what's known as crime-report or incident-report data.

There are two basic IT systems that almost all police departments use: computer-aided dispatch and a records management system. The CAD system handles 911 calls and retrieves and displays data related to those calls, such as location of origin. The RMS stores data generated from crime incident reports, such as arrests and bookings. Alongside the RMS, many police agencies have developed data stores of specific information, such as gang or sex-offender databases. Employing off-the-shelf technology and developed by third-party service providers, many of these systems are standalone, which has led to another situation familiar to corporate IT--silos of data.

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One of the first sophisticated data integration systems written for law enforcement is called Coplink. It was developed in the late 1990s by a Tucson police officer and a computer science professor at the University of Arizona.

The Tucson police department was Coplink's first customer, says James Wysocki, an IT administrator for the city of Tucson who was the IT administrator for Tucson PD when Coplink was first implemented. "It became obvious that this was a game-changer," he says. "I reconfigured my division to take advantage of it."

Coplink is a data analysis tool that searches for patterns among data loaded into the system from disparate sources. Wysocki first used Coplink to reconcile and query data from the various systems within the Tucson PD. Because each Coplink data warehouse is a node on the system, he reached out to police agencies across the county that had implemented Coplink, then to agencies in other jurisdictions.

Today, Coplink is used in more than 3,000 police jurisdictions, says Bob Griffin, CEO of i2 Inc., which markets the system. "Everybody recognizes that you have to share data," he says.

The next step is querying systems around the state and interacting with the feds. Tucson has worked out deals with the Justice Department and Homeland Security to query into their systems, Wysocki says, which is "a big thing, because for years the information flowed in only one direction."

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