Information sharing for criminal investigations goes Web 2.0

CrimeDex, an online database system designed to link security directors and law enforcement, is taking "Web 2.0" and applying it to our industry. The company, which is owned by video surveillance company 3VR, announced today new features to the CrimeDex system that allows security and operations managers share more information in the hopes that they can drive crime awareness and actually catch more perpetrators of fraud.

The CrimeDex system, which was acquired by 3VR in April 2007, started as online text-based information sharing portal designed to link financial institutions with law enforcement. At that time, members of the CrimeDex portal could add text to a database describing known crimes and criminals. Over the time, the Internet ramped up what could be shared online, and the company's CrimeDex service has been keeping pace with additions of video uploads, photos, email alerts, and search functionality to help investigators research both crimes and criminals.

According to CrimeDex's Vice President Jim Hudson, who founded the system after working for 22 years as a police investigator, one of the promising features of the updated CrimeDex service is that it allows community building so that like-minded security practitioners can create groups to share specific information. For example, says Hudson, members could organize and create an online community that is defined by them. Additional CrimeDex members could be invited to join the group. Then, the benefit is that all members of that group can freely share crime and fraud information among their peers in the group.

The communities can immediately share alerts, often sent as a PDF attachment with information on the particular area of concern, but it also can allow for accessing each other's video clips, like a clip of a known bank robber in action, or images pertaining to crimes. At the national level, some alerts can be distributed to all CrimeDex members -- whether part of a group or not -- after approval from the CrimeDex staff.

Hudson said the biggest draw of the groups is the flexibility of creating a purpose-driven community.

"You can form temporary task force groups," said Hudson. "Let’s say you are all working on the same kind of case. You could hook up with an FBI agent in Washington, D.C., a postal inspector in Miami. You could create a temporary group and use a discussion board. And you can dissolve the group when you solve the problem."

Groups can form discussion boards and create a group calendar to schedule actions. Group members also gain access to each other's CrimeDex membership profiles, something akin to LinkedIn or Facebook-style personal networking.

“Until now, our executive board had to send out alerts on behalf of our members," said Nancy Mansi, CFE president at Merrimack Valley Financial Crimes Network (MVFCN) and security officer and assistant BSA officer for Metro Credit Union. The MVFCN will be one of the first groups to take advantage of CrimeDex 2.0 -- the newest version with the added functionality. "With CrimeDex, our members can not only send out alerts directly, but also post questions and important information on the discussion board, making collaboration much easier and more direct."

Besides the addition of groups functionality, one of the other draws of the newly improved CrimeDex has been video sharing. The system has supported video uploads in the past as long as the video was saved in an open format such as could be viewed in a standard Web video player like Windows Media Viewer, but there's even more functionality now for video following the acquisition by 3VR. The system now allows 3VR system users added functionality in that their video can be uploaded and downloaded directly through CrimeDex and their 3VR SmartRecorders.

Hudson said they have also improved the search functionality for managers and investigators studying a crime or trying to find similar activities in their area or the nation. Besides improved search criteria, the service has expanded its crime descriptions. When the service launched in 2000, it was primarily focused on counterfeit checks. Now the system supports crime reports on robberies, credit card fraud, shoplifting, organized retail crime and more -- basically the types of crimes that retail and bank security directors would care about.

The CrimeDex system offers free membership to law enforcement professionals, and annual membership for commercial organizations. The membership is based on the company; for example, the bank or retail store joins the system, not simply the individual security director or bank manager. CrimeDex has over a thousand active member organizations, and Hudson said alerts are spread through those organizations, making the total number of people accessing the information number up to the hundreds of thousands. One of the core elements of CrimeDex system has been its database profiles on over 14,000 criminal suspects.

According to CrimeDex, they're already seeing groups wanting to adopt the new features. Besides the adoption of version 2.0 by the Merrimack Valley Financial Crimes Network, the California Financial Crimes Investigators Association (CFCIA) will also be making the switch from CrimeDex 1.0 to the 2.0 version this month.

For Hudson, it's a natural progression to an idea that started 20 years ago.

"I was at a fraud investigators meeting sometime around 1999," explained Hudson. "We were all in a room passing around Xeroxed copies and grainy copies of suspects' photos. It would never cease to amaze me that sometimes institutions were all chasing the same guy, but we didn’t realize we were all chasing the same person. I remember saying, 'Why isn't there a system to help us do this?' That's where the idea for CrimeDex came from."

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