GCN LAB REVIEWS
Slick iPad app helps detectives become super sleuths
- By John Breeden II
- Sep 28, 2011
The GCN Lab's Product of the Month for October is the Accurint Mobile for Law Enforcement app by LexisNexis. This amazing program resides on an Apple iPad and can act as a force multiplier for local detectives or federal investigators.
The Accurint Mobile program ties into a massive database that contains just about every type of record you can imagine and probably several that you can’t. Agencies purchase seat licenses to gain the right to use the database, which was designed to be accessed normally from a secure desktop computer. However, the new iPad application has almost as many features as the desktop program, is easy to use and deploy, and is offered for free to any agency that buys access to the core program.
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The cost to tie into the LexisNexis database varies, though a moderately sized or large police force can expect the costs to be about $1,600 per investigator.
We sat down with Thomas Joyce, a former precinct commander for the New York Police Department, who now sells Accurint to other law enforcement agencies. We pretended we were investigating a crime and observed how easy and effective Accurint was for investigators in the field.
The Law Enforcement app has just five buttons at the top level of the interface, each one representing one of the most popular and useful searches to the database. The possible searches are People, Phones, Vehicles, Property and Businesses. Using these searches properly could help detectives run down leads quickly in the field and deny suspects places to hide. It could also be used to double-check witness statements for truthfulness and accuracy in the field, something Joyce said had to be done in the past by driving back to the station house or calling in information over the phone. That added time to investigations, giving suspects more opportunity to pack their bags and go on the lam.
We first did a search for our suspect, actually someone Joyce knew so that nobody’s privacy would be violated. We were quickly shown 25 records that contained that person, showing us everything from known addresses, property owned and known associates. Known associates was the most interesting find. The database cross-references any matching records between people, so if someone lived with or paid bills using the same address as a suspect for a time, they would be brought up in the search. Relatives also pop up. You can also search for those new people to get an idea of where your suspect might be heading.
The database can also be used to help witnesses give more accurate information to police. For example, say a witness knows that a suspect lives on a certain street but doesn't know exactly where. The available information can be cross-referenced. In our fictional investigation, the witness knew the suspect had a sister named Dolores but not much else. Using the database, we were able to cross-reference partial names of our suspect with known associates named Dolores and narrow down a residence to just two places. If you have a cooperative witness, you can then show them both places on the screen and perhaps figure out the correct one.
Cell phone database
Another helpful tool is a very accurate phone database, including cell phone records. Not only does the database give you a person’s cell phone number, but it also tells you whether a phone has been ported to a new carrier, which is helpful if investigators need to request a tap or need access to phone records. According to Joyce, it can take a week to get a subpoena and have the wireless carrier return the information. A lot of times after waiting a week, police are told that the number was ported to a new carrier, and investigators have to start over again.
The Vehicles search is pretty self-explanatory and easy enough for detectives to do in the field. Say they roll up to a house and see a car that matches a description a witness gave. Just typing in the license plate number will give all the information about that car.
A Property search will show you anything a suspect owns that requires a license. This can be helpful because they might be hiding out on a boat they own, for example. And it can help in cases where assets can be seized because it points those assets out to investigators.
The Business search is a little bit more than a simple phone book, though it can be used for that purpose. Say a crime involves the use of a product that came from a hardware store. Investigators can use the app to find all the stores in an area. But they can also find information about the manager of the store. So an investigator does not have to go into a place and ask to speak to the manager or owner, and then not really know if the person they are directed to is, in fact, someone in charge. They can go in and ask for the owner by name.
The interface for the application is very easy to use. It’s designed well for the iPad and takes advantage of the tablet's easy-to-use interface. And searches were very fast using a 3G connection. They seemed to take between 15 and 30 seconds to return all their results, with none taking more than that. Many only took a few seconds.
This is an incredible tool for investigators, and we can see how it would help to identify a lot more suspects. It puts time on the side of law enforcement and means suspects have much less time before a cop gets to them. The Accurint Mobile for Law Enforcement App by LexisNexis earns our respect and our vote as Product of the Month for October.
John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.