Real-time crime fighting comes to Gotham
- By Doug Beizer
- Sep 21, 2005
NYPD's portal gives detectives all the facts right on the scene
New York's Real Time Crime Center
When New York City detectives respond to a homicide, any piece of information can be critical to solving the crime. And not only do detectives rely on the information, they need it fast.
Quickly providing police with essential data is the goal of the city's new Real Time Crime Center, said Jim Onalfo, the New York City Police Department's chief information officer.
The crime center staff uses a Web-based system to access such information as 911 calls and arrest records, to assist detectives in the field with investigations. The center also has a two-story video system that can display information, maps and other data.
'Before the crime center opening, when a detective went to a crime scene, he had very little information from our files that might relate to that area and a particular crime,' Onalfo said. 'Today, when he goes to a crime scene, we'll be able to give him all the information we have about that area: what crimes have taken place there, what types of crimes, what kind of lascivious parolees might be in the area. Anything to help them get a jump-start on trying to sort through a particular crime.'
The main goal of the project was to get the data quickly and easily, said David Petri, a program manager for systems integrator Dimension Data Inc. of Hauppauge, N.Y.
The challenge for NYPD officials was that each area of the department's data'warrant records, complaint records, arrests information, 911 call records'was isolated in a separate system.
'Detectives would literally have to log into each one of those systems to get the information,' Petri said. 'And the detectives themselves had to know which system had which data, as well as knowing all the nuances of each particular system.'
Police were spending time negotiating the IT rather than using it to focus on detective work. Often, detectives would have to return to a precinct house hours or days after the crime was committed to look up information they needed. That time lag could be a detriment to solving cases.
At the new crime center in lower Manhattan, about 15 detectives access data via a Web portal. The center is staffed around the clock.
At the center, staff members access the data via a data warehouse built before Dimension joined the project. Building on the data warehouse, Data Dimension created several data marts, subsets of information optimized for reporting, Petri said.
The system also integrates off-the-shelf software, such as the mapping tool MapXtreme from MapInfo Corp. of Troy, N.Y., and a data-mining tool from Cognos Inc. of Ottawa.
The layers of software work together to deliver more complete information to police, as well as cut the time and effort they need to spend getting it.
'It wasn't complete the old way, because we didn't have the same amount of robust tools we have today,' Onalfo said. 'Plus, we have more information available today, so it's basically moving the department into the 21st century.'
If police have the name of a suspect, the system's name-finder function can supply nicknames or aliases by which the suspect also may be known. By applying parameters such as time and location, the system can find data related to those names.
'Whether it's arrest data or complaint data or something else, those leads go out to detectives to let them quickly go track down leads,' Petri said.
If detectives in the center want to see a map of an area and the events that have taken place there, they can run a report that comes back with all the crimes that occurred in that area within a particular time frame. They also can see the data displayed on a map.
'What they were doing in the past was often using paper files, because it was easier for them go into those records and flip through,' Petri said. 'Even though information was available electronically, they would sometimes turn to the paper.'Rapid acceptance
The center presents a fundamentally different way for detectives to work, but officers are quickly accepting it and coming to appreciate it, Onalfo said.
'The response has been very satisfactory from the standpoint of detectives,' he said. 'There have been cases where we have apprehended someone because of the information.'
NYPD has not yet released statistics related to the crime center. The department is using the crime center only for shootings and homicides, but its use eventually will be expanded to include other serious crimes.Doug Beizer writes for GCN's sister publication Washington Technology.
Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.