Silos of sharing

Cross-jurisdictional tool helps law enforcement share information

The car sped down the road with police officers in hot pursuit. It crashed, but before the officers could catch up, it sped away again, leaving only its front bumper behind.

But that's all the police officers of the Berks-Lehigh Regional Police Department in Pennsylvania needed to track down three addresses possibly linked to the escaped car.

Linking the bumper to the addresses was possible because of the regional data-sharing system used by the department. Berks-Lehigh had no information on a car fitting the description inferred from the bumper, but its officers could search the databases of the other police departments in the county to see if they did. And that's where the addresses turned up.

'There's no way I could have gotten that information any other way,' said Officer Darren Simmers of the Berks-Lehigh department.

The system is called Cobra, developed by Cody Systems. The company recently announced the fifth generation of the product. The latest release includes a new Strategic Analyis Manager that expands the system's data analysis and investigative tools, including the ability to view results in a graphical rendering with thumbnail record information and photos, in addition to drill-down capabilities.

Cobra stands for center-point-based regional access, and it allows agencies in different jurisdictions to share data. What makes Cobra unique, said David Heffner, director of marketing at Cody, is its use of what are called insulated data silos.

In contrast to traditional data warehouses that mingle data, Cobra stores each agency's data in a separate silo, which protects data by allowing agencies to create their own sharing profiles that control access. The silos reside on Cobra's Center-Point Server, which enables disparate systems in different jurisdictions to communicate with one other.

'Agencies don't want their data mixed up with other agencies' data,' Heffner said. By using Cobra, 'agencies know who's coming into their silo, when and why. They have control over what others see and never lose control of their data.'

Agencies can retain their existing local record systems because Cobra's proprietary software allows different systems to communicate with one another. 'The last thing an agency wants to do is change its infrastructure,' Heffner said. 'They've invested money and entered a lot of data.'

Whenever data is updated locally, the change is immediately and automatically synchronized with the data in the silo. And data delivery takes place in seconds, so that, for example, a police officer on the street can quickly find information about someone detained in a traffic stop ' even if the newest information about the suspect is only 10 minutes old.

'We've been able to solve or come close to solving [many] more cases with Cobra because of the data sharing with other departments,' Simmers said. 'We can do a variety of searches that weren't available in the past.'

Simmers also finds Cobra's partial-name search ability indispensable. 'I can do a search on first names or nicknames,' he said.

He explained that suspects often claim not to know the names of the people with whom they committed a crime, or they only know nicknames. But even if the suspect simply says it was a Joe who lives on 15th Street, officers can perform a search on that information. 'I might find a Joe on 15th Street who's 90 years old, one who's 5 and one who's 23. We can guess it's probably the 23-year-old and follow up with that person. You can't do that with anything else out there.'

Cobra is mostly used at the county, regional and state levels, but the technology is scalable to a nationwide system.

The system allows data sharing via multiple connection options, including wired local-area networks, Wi-Fi, personal-area networks, wide-area networks, 3-G mobile broadband, cellular modem and the Internet.


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