Supercomputing Power Used To Find Sex Offenders When Children Go Missing

A new tool from LexisNexis integrates maps, information from local police departments, records on 300 million U.S. residents and visitors, and details about the 600,000 sex offenders.

K.C. Jones, Contributor

April 12, 2007

5 Min Read

LexisNexis has a new tool that uses supercomputing power to help police zero in on registered and unregistered sex offenders immediately after a child is reported missing.

The company's Advanced Investigative Solution, launched Wednesday, incorporates LexisNexis' Advanced Sex Offender Search technology with its Enterprise Data Fusion System. The tool integrates maps, information from local police departments, records on 300 million U.S. residents and visitors, as well as details about the 600,000 sex offenders living in the United States.

AIS helps investigators locate relatives of missing or unregistered offenders, figure out where the offenders have been, and determine possible whereabouts of those who have failed to register their addresses with authorities.

Jim Peck, CEO of LexisNexis Risk & Information Analytics Group, said during an interview that his company updates its records weekly to help track an estimated 100,000 offenders that authorities would lose track of otherwise.

"Approximately one in six convicted sex offenders fail to properly report their current whereabouts to authorities, posing a daunting crime problem that requires collaboration amongst private industry, law enforcement, and government," Peck said.

Armando Escalante, CTO of the company's risk management, said a supercomputing-based system distributes data across 400 nodes that work together as one computer capable of processing 4 billion combinations. Though the results are not definitive, they quickly point police to the doors they should be knocking on during an investigation.

"We can start linking the records in a way that we know who these people are and where they've been," he said during an interview. "It gives us a good picture of who these guys are, who are their neighbors, relatives and associates, and where they could be."

LexisNexis has provided lawyers and other professionals with information services for about 30 years. Twenty years ago, businesses, academic institutions, and others began taking advantage of the company's vast information databases. In the 1990s, LexisNexis began creating applications to address societal problems, Peck said. That includes: fraud, terrorism and sex offense tracking and prevention.

"The reason that the government and society want these people registered is that they are four times as likely to re-commit their crimes as others," Peck said. "Only one in 10 is in jail. The rest are out in society, with us, and they tend to commit their crimes around where they, or their relatives, live."

When a child is abducted by a sexual predator, speed can be the difference between life and death. A 2006 national study on child abductions that ended in murder revealed that in 76% of cases in which a child was killed by an abductor, the child died within the first three hours. Washington State researchers working with the U.S. Department of Justice found that in more than 60% of cases, it took two hours for someone to realize a child was missing and report it to police.

AIS provides a map, which allows police to mark the area where an incident is reported, highlight schools, daycare centers, and the homes of offenders and their relatives. "We can do things like sweep an area and show all the registered and unregistered offenders there," he said. "During an abduction, through link analysis, we can determine whether if a relative of an offender is living in the area. Without this kind of tool, law enforcement would have no way of understanding this relationship."

States' registration and notification laws vary, allowing sex offenders to move to states where laws are lax, or disappear. The Adam Walsh Act requires offenders to notify authorities when they move and makes fugitives out of those who fail to do so.

Police can use AIS for routine roundups of unregistered offenders in their jurisdictions. In states that require offenders to remain a specific distance from places where children are known to congregate, police can use the application to learn the exact distances between offenders' homes and schools or daycares. That eliminates the need for police to go out and measure the distance themselves.

The application offers a special jurisdiction alert, which notifies authorities when an offender moves into their area without registering. "We can determine where their new address is," Escalante said.

Tom Joyce, a retired New York City police detective and an account manager for LexisNexis, said the system is updated more frequently than records from the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and it allows local departments to access information that cannot be exchanged legally across jurisdictions.

He demonstrated how police can enter a description of a crime, including its location and known facts about a perpetrator, for analysis. He opened a second window and dropped a fictitious complaint into a map. Joyce entered the zip code and ran it through the system to bring up a list of all potential registered and unregistered sex offenders in the area. He selected all, then dragged and dropped those onto the map for a complete picture of the sex offenders in the area.

When the user hovers their mouse over a home marked with an "R" or "U" for (registered and unregistered), the information associated with that location appears in a balloon. Users can also import external data and layer it on top.

"It allows you to go out and target registered and unregistered offenders and maybe, hopefully, be able to save somebody before anything happens," Joyce said. "It provides accurate and timely intelligence and rapid deployment."

LexisNexis is one of several technology companies that donate services and products to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. In 2006, investigators using LexisNexis tools found 146 children, according to the NCMEC. Five states, including Florida, use LexisNexis' Advanced Sex Offender Search technology.

AIS prices vary based on the number of users and the amount of local data.

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