Law enforcement network gets visual

In fighting crime and terrorism, connecting the dots is crucial.

That's what law enforcement intelligence analysts say prompted them to adopt visualization software for Riss.net, the Justice Department-funded network that links state and local authorities with federal agencies.

Riss.net, a project of the Justice Department's Regional Information Sharing System, connects hundreds of thousands of law enforcement professionals to affiliated networks such as the intelligence community's Open Source Information System, the FBI's Law Enforcement Online and Justice's Anti-Terrorist Information Exchange system.

Riss.net managers last month added to the network iBase visualization software and related tools from i2 Inc. of Springfield, Va.

The visualization software helps users tap into various databases on the network to find and display relationships among data related to criminal or terrorist activity, said Karen Aumond, assistant director of the Western States Information Network. WSIN is one of six RISS centers.

'Say you have 'Karen Aumond' with a date of birth,' she said, describing an investigator's work with the visualization tools. 'You would select databases and say 'Find matches.' It would go to all the other databases, find the data and display it on a chart.'

Each RISS center, in addition to states such as Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas and Utah, has a relational database of criminal information that WSIN analysts regularly check for criminal intelligence data.

Aumond said information in the databases is not entered on the basis that law enforcement officers have probable cause, but on the basis of a reasonable suspicion.

That lower standard lets the databases hold more information than some other systems such as the FBI's National Criminal Information Center database of wanted persons and warrants.
Intelligence analysts typically incorporate the visual data representations from the i2 system into a related i2 tool called Analyst's Notebook, an application that pieces together information and puzzles out crime patterns.

'Linking individuals to one another can take months' without such analytical software, Aumond said.

RISS officials chose the i2 product because it is quickly deployable, 'it interfaces with Analyst's Notebook, which is widely accepted in law enforcement, and the visualization is easy to use but sophisticated enough to add value to a written report,' Aumond said.

Some of the criminal intelligence databases Riss.net accesses use Microsoft SQL database management systems while others use Oracle databases. 'As long as they use the Riss.net standards, it doesn't matter what engine is behind them,' Aumond said. Riss.net achieves interoperability by relying on the Justice Department's Extensible Markup Language standard.

Senior intelligence research specialist Meredith Mattos of the Hawaii High-Intensity Drug Trafficking area in Honolulu said the visualization tool lets her build into a large chart associations between data objects such as individuals, firearms, locations, vehicles and crimes. 'I can right-click and it expands' the information on a data object, Mattos said. 'All I have to do is keep clicking and expanding on people and addresses, so I can build all the associations on one huge chart. What I would normally do is draw it up manually.'

Mattos' office has five analysts who use the visualization tools.

'It is easy to understand and present,' she said. 'It is not tons of pieces of paper, it is one pretty chart.'

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