New York's Techno Crime Fighters - InformationWeek
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7/22/2005
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New York's Techno Crime Fighters

The Police Department's Real-Time Crime Center will deliver information quickly to help speed criminal investigations

The New York City Police Department is turning to technology to track leads and solve crimes more efficiently. The department's $11 million Real Time Crime Center opened last week adjacent to the NYPD's Emergency Operations Center in lower Manhattan and is expected to make access to information contained in millions of local, state, and national records available to the city's 4,000 crime investigators via cell phones and pagers.

Mayor Bloomberg tours the $11 million NYPD Real Time Crime Center in lower Manhattan. Photo by Edward Reed

Mayor Bloomberg tours the $11 million NYPD Real Time Crime Center in lower Manhattan.


Photo by Edward Reed
The center "will become the new tech nerve center for the NYPD," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news conference. Information "will be comprehensive, highly relevant, instantaneous, and will transform the way we solve crimes," he said.

The center is expected to let detectives accomplish in minutes what often takes hours, days, or weeks, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. "It will accelerate the ability to make connections, increasing the likelihood that suspects are apprehended before they can commit other crimes."

The crime center has 15 computer workstations and will be staffed by 26 analysts and investigators, working around the clock in shifts. Once a detective requests information, the crime center either returns the detective's phone call or sends data to a handheld device.

"The Real Time Crime Center is a super help desk for detectives," department CIO Jim Onalfo says. A key step in creating it came last year when Onalfo and his team finished assembling a data warehouse using IBM's DB2 database software. It includes police databases that track arrests, complaints, criminal summonses, homicides, and shootings. The data warehouse has more than 5 million New York State criminal records and parole and probation files; more than 20 million New York City criminal complaints, 911/311 calls, and summonses spanning five years; more than 31 million national crime records; and more than 33 billion public records.

In October, the department turned to technology provider and systems integrator Dimension Data Holdings plc for help evaluating, building, and implementing software to analyze the data. "As crime information comes in, we want to be able to look at different patterns," Onalfo says.

The quantity of data was never a problem, the CIO says. The challenge was integrating it and making the full force of all that information available to crime fighters. "Whenever a report is processed or a 911 call is made, we immediately have that information, but it wasn't used that way," Onalfo adds.

Analysts will use MapInfo Corp.'s satellite imaging and mapping software to determine crime patterns and locations. They also will use "link-analysis" capability to search for all data on a suspect, including names and location of family and employers, to point to locations where a suspect is most likely to flee. "This would take hours to do on paper," Onalfo says.

Initially, the center will assist homicide and shooting investigations using public data. By early next year, Onalfo plans to extend its resources to include nonpublic data, which is generally withheld from the public for the protection of witnesses and victims.

Funding was the biggest challenge to getting the center up and running, says Onalfo, a former CIO at Kraft Foods Inc. "In the commercial world, the technology is the hardest part." The department got $8 million from Bloomberg's executive budget, $1.3 million from the New York City Police Foundation, and $1.8 million in federal funds.

Commissioner Kelly believes the center is worth every cent. "This crime-fighting center is harnessing the power of information technology and putting it in the hands of our investigators to fight and solve crimes," he said. "We have a wealth of electronic data at our fingertips."

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