LAPD Turns to Data Analysis to Help Fight Terrorism

New system also targets organized crime and gangs


By Heather Havenstein

The Los Angeles Police Department 's counterterrorism unit next month will begin using a new data-analysis system that's designed to identify and link related pieces of intelligence.

The new tools promise to help police deter and respond to terrorist attacks, officials said.

The LAPD Counter Terrorism and Criminal Intelligence Bureau will use the $1 million system to gather, track, analyze and distribute intelligence information, including tips and leads. It said it will also use the system to analyze data related to organized crime, gangs and money laundering.

The system is being built for the bureau by Memex Inc. and will include its data mining, analysis and visualization tools. Connecting the Dots

The completed package will allow about 80 counterterrorism bureau officers to search multiple intelligence databases simultaneously, said Bob Fox, officer in charge of the analytical section in the major crimes division of the counterterrorism bureau. It will provide proactive notifications and e-mail alerts to officers when patterns are identified, he said.

"One of the criticisms in the 9/11 Commission's report is [that] agencies failed to connect the dots [and] bring pieces of information together that possibly would have prevented the 9/11 attacks," Fox said. "[Today] when somebody sits down at a computer and starts trying to check information, there are too many places to look."

The new analysis tools, Fox said, can search multiple sources of information with a single search entry and determine whether "there are any linkages or connections to the information we are looking at."

Today, for example, if a citizen calls the department to report suspicious activity by a neighbor, officers have to search several different data sources for the person's name to see if he is in one of the department's databases, he said. "The more data sources you are required to look at, the more opportunity there is to miss something or forget something," Fox noted.

Kelly Harris, deputy executive director of The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics in Sacramento, said that many local law enforcement agencies are working to automate paper-based internal systems. She said the LAPD's new system will put it "ahead of the curve."

The consortium focuses on using IT to improve law enforcement and public safety.

Systems like the one the LAPD is installing will also become critical in creating regional systems for sharing information among law enforcement agencies, Harris added. Efforts to develop such systems are already under way in some states, she said.

The Memex system includes a hybrid relational and open text search database paired with an intelligence engine that compresses data.

Those tools allow users who may not be sure where the data is housed to quickly search multiple databases simultaneously, said Mike Himley, general manager of Vienna, Va.-based Memex's western region.

Memex, which specializes in analysis tools for law enforcement and intelligence agencies, is installing a similar system for the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification & Investigation . That system is due to be completed during the first quarter.

In addition, New Jersey last year built a system for statewide information analysis using the Memex tools, and London's Metropolitan Police Service has been using tools from the company since 1993.