Technology

Data Delivery: Rap Sheets in Real Time

Crime fighters in New York City have a new high-tech tool for catching perps. It's a massive data warehouse, run by a team of analysts and investigators who can put valuable information in detectives' hands before they even arrive at a crime scene.
by | September 2005

Crime fighters in New York City have a new high-tech tool for catching perps. It's a massive data warehouse, run by a team of analysts and investigators who can put valuable information in detectives' hands before they even arrive at a crime scene.

Around NYPD's headquarters, the room full of computers and wall-sized screens is called the "Real Time Crime Center." Jim Onalfo, NYPD's chief information officer, prefers to call it a "super help desk" for detectives. What Onalfo has done is integrate dozens of databases, including criminal records, parole and probation files, summonses and calls from 911 and 311. He has also layered in the capability to do advanced searching, mapping and pattern analysis.

Detectives working a field investigation can call in to the crime center to have database searches done. Results are sent back by fax or phone. Eventually, the information will be sent wirelessly to detectives' laptops. "Before this, when detectives went to a crime scene, they had very little information to take with them," Onalfo says. "Now they call the center, and we're preparing information as they're going to a location."

The $11 million crime center may become a model for other law enforcement agencies, much the way NYPD's Compstat system did in the 1990s. The crime center, however, is not simply a souped-up version of the famous crime-mapping tool, according to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Compstat measures and holds managers accountable for past crimes, Kelly said in July. "In contrast, this crime-fighting center is harnessing the power of information technology and putting it into the hands of our investigators to fight and solve crimes."

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