The technology modern forensics investigators have at their disposal amazes me. Gas chromatograph mass spectrometers, hemoglobin-reacting luminol, fingerprint-matching database apps, mitochondrial DNA tools -- you name it, they've got it. And the stuff works. But there's one area where law enforcement technology is lagging, even though the applications exist to remedy the situation: data-sharing between agencies.
Enter the University of Central Florida, and its FINDER system. The Florida Integrated Network for Data Exchange and Retrieval is a pioneering network that boosts cross-jurisdictional communication between that state's 355 law enforcement agencies. Detectives query the system based on criminals' names or other identifying criteria, and then specify which databases in the network they want to search. Queries bounce off the data sources and return summary reports with hyperlinks to relevant information. In short, the system transforms raw, far-flung data into precise intelligence, which is the very core of BI. You can read about Florida's initiative here.
Individuals who commit crimes in multiple locales -- bank robbers or serial murderers, for instance -- often get away with their deeds because law enforcement officials can examine patterns or similarities only from within their jurisdiction. They can act only on the data they have at hand. This is a problem on the national level in the United States and in other countries, and even a challenge within states or provinces. The Florida system, which is in the early going, is designed to broaden the data view for law enforcement and enable queries against that information.
Such an undertaking isn't easy. Central Florida's engineers have to travel from agency to agency, doing systems integration work and ensuring that departments' XML-based Web services are converting data into acceptable formats. Any IT pro who's carried out such work knows it can be a rough job within a single organization, much less across several, varied entities. Florida's betting the end result will justify the effort.
Some of us in the business intelligence community can forget there's a need for knowledge-based intelligence far beyond the world of "business." But Florida's efforts in law enforcement data-sharing, analytics and reporting can teach all BI practitioners a thing or two.