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Law enforcement gains ground in data integration and analysis

By Judith Lamont, KMWorld senior writer

Having a 360-degree view of criminals is as important in law enforcement as having a complete view of customers is in CRM systems. Yet critical pieces of information relating to criminals and crimes are often scattered among disparate databases.

Recent data integration efforts at the federal, state and local levels are going a long way toward overcoming the gaps that result from that fragmentation. In the past year, significant progress has been made in integrating fingerprint data from the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) system and the INS' Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT). The Department of Justice has reported that the new system helped to intercept 4,000 foreign nationals wanted for serious crimes as they crossed U.S. borders. Just a year ago, those individuals would not have been stopped, because the INS database did not contain names and fingerprint data for individuals wanted by the FBI.

Attaining that success required solving a number of technical and operational problems. An initial subset of records representing individuals wanted by the U.S. Marshals Service was extracted from IAFIS in August 2001. The program was expanded to include other types of warrants, and IAFIS was then searched for all such individuals who were foreign born, whose birthplace was unknown or who had a previous INS arrest. More than 80,000 records met those criteria, out of a total of 42 million records in IAFIS. Access by INS to those records, added to IDENT in January 2002, resulted in the detention of about 300 individuals per month during the past year.

Several issues related to fingerprint format were addressed. The format for fingerprints in the FBI’s IAFIS database (10 rolled prints) was different from that used in the INS IDENT database (two flat prints). Obtaining and searching for a set of 10 rolled prints at the border would have meant significant and unacceptable delays. Therefore, two fingerprints were extracted from the IAFIS database records and added to IDENT, along with an indication that a warrant was outstanding. A workstation is being developed for INS to capture and use 10 rolled prints through current methods, and a research program initiated to determine whether a method can be created to capture 10 prints more rapidly.

The FBI also established a new transaction type that reduced search time for fingerprints. The transaction retrieves the individual’s criminal history, but not the actual fingerprints, and eliminates manual inspection by an expert. A match constitutes probable cause to hold the individual until confirmation can be obtained. The new procedure is being field tested at 10 border patrol stations and 10 ports of entry. The goal of the technical and operational modifications is to find the optimal balance between effectiveness at intercepting criminals, keeping the flow of people moving at ports of entry and mitigating costs. By March, 41 sites are scheduled to be operational.

Local enforcement

Local police departments typically have limited IT resources, yet they nearly always serve as first responders to crimes, and therefore need a means of documenting their investigations. CrimeNtel and CaseInfo from CI Technologies were designed for local law enforcement organizations to help manage criminal intelligence and crime investigations respectively. Designed for ease of use, the products are available with either a Windows or browser interface. Both are designed to link facts into a meaningful picture. The default fields include date of the incident or report, source of the information and verification status of the information. As new pieces of information are entered into the database, queries can be generated to see if a link exists to any other information. Relationships between facts can be presented visually in a form that shows links to places, people, vehicles and other relevant dimensions. The database also can be modified to provide additional fields.

Despite the trend toward greater integration and access, there is still a need for local databases. “Sometimes local departments do not want to put sensitive information into a national database because they are concerned about appropriate access,” says John Walker, VP of CI Technologies. “Other times, they are simply not sure the information is valid, and do not want to present it as fact when it may not be.” However, products such as CrimeNtel facilitate sharing data when doing so is beneficial. In most states, police departments come together on a regular basis to share intelligence, but meetings may be only monthly. Using a Web-accessible database can bring that cooperation into real time.

The Escambia County Sheriff's Office in Pensacola, Fla., has used CrimeNtel for the past nine years to support its criminal intelligence activities. Investigator Sam Reitzammer is enthusiastic about the speed at which data can be entered and the security of the product.

"We can easily add data from many sources," says Reitzammer, "including FBI bulletins, incident reports, scanned documents, photos and word processing documents, by either copy or paste or attaching a file to a record. Then the system allows us to view a 'link chart' of a person, vehicle, phone number, address or business when we are trying to connect pieces of information.”

In addition to supporting the Sheriff's Office, Reitzammer's activities also provide investigative support to over 51 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Reitzammer can set the level of access for each record and also for each user.

The value of coordination beyond departmental boundaries is evident, especially in cases such as the D.C. snipers, whose victims were from several jurisdictions. Despite considerable cooperation among law enforcement agencies, it was not discovered until after the snipers were apprehended that police officers in several locations had stopped the pair for questioning on numerous occasions. An integrated system could have detected that pattern through analysis of police records.

Business intelligence tools are increasingly being used for such analysis. For example, the Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP), provides information to its troopers, various state and local agencies, as well as to the public. The MSHP system moves data from mainframes to local data warehouses using WebFOCUS from Information Builders. Data in the mainframes is never accessed directly. Because the system uses an access tool rather than point-to-point processing, functions such as reporting and budgeting can be provided in the same system. The software also ties into the MSHP enterprise resource planning (ERP) system (SAM II), which tracks costs, expenditures and budgetary activities.

The Pennsylvania State Police Uniform Crime Reporting System (PAUCRS), also uses WebFOCUS to provide crime statistics to state agencies and citizens. In addition to supplying reports on crime rates in specific locations such as towns, counties and college campuses, the system transfers data automatically to the FBI’s national crime database.

“Criminal databases were designed to protect data, rather than to share it,” says Eric Greisdorf, director of vertical solutions for Information Builder’s iWay Software, the division that specializes in integration. Sharing the data directly may not only be difficult but also undesirable.

“Using XML technology and a Web services approach, agencies do not need to expose the data itself,” he notes, “but might just send a message back in response to an inquiry. The output is controllable by the owner.” Such an approach can help ensure that information is shared appropriately, while avoiding stovepipes that prevent effective coordination.

The most exotic technology in the world will not be effective if it is not accepted and absorbed into the organization using it. To this end, the National Science Foundation has funded a research project at the University of Arizona to explore issues related to knowledge management and law enforcement. The MIS Department at the university will partner with the Tucson Police Department to study the impact of how police officers will use wireless technology in their patrol cars. They will look at whether gaining quicker access to data and communication benefits the process and outcomes.

“As new technologies are introduced,” says Suzanne Weisband, the lead researcher on the project, “we expect the power structure to change.” Those potential changes would be the logical result of a new information flow enabled by wireless. The study will also examine such important issues as communication patterns and trust.

“The consequences of delayed or inaccurate information are more serious in law enforcement than in some other sectors,” says Weisband, “so we are looking carefully at the relationship between technology and organizational process.”

Judith Lamont is a research analyst with Zentek Corp., e-mail jlamont@sprintmail.com.

On the horizon

An acoustic sensor called On Alert Gunshot Detection System (GDS) is designed to detect the sound of gunfire, pinpoint its location and identify the type of gun that fired the bullet. The device, for which Proxity Digital Networks holds licensing rights, is now being field tested, and is scheduled for commercial introduction in January 2005. GDS is a patent-pending technology that analyzes gunshots and other acoustic events using unique real-time calculations and integrated wireless notification.

When gunshots sound, the sensor delivers a signal in seconds via wireless technology to an officer’s PDA and a central computer indicating the type and number of gunshots. Proxity is developing a database that will contain the acoustic signatures of various types of guns. Once the gunshot information is in a database, it can be used both to help solve crimes and to provide statistical data. On Alert can also be programmed to dial the nearest 911 emergency facility.

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