My fictional protagonist, Hannibal Jones, is a private eye running a one-man agency, so the tools he uses to help people in trouble are usually limited to muscle, guts, observation and deduction. P.I. work calls for a lot of legwork, the kind the police can’t afford to do. They don’t’ have the time or the manpower. But like real-life cops, he would laugh at the stylized world of law enforcement you see on TV, where every crime can be solved in an hour.
But New York City is closer to that fantasy than I realized, until I learned about the Real Time Crime Center. It’s like a super detective help desk, the nerve center for technology to help the detectives out there on the streets with the kind of information that helps them develop leads and solve crimes. The Real Time Crime Center’s primary purpose is to give field officers and detectives instant and comprehensive information to help identify patterns and stop emerging crime. It’s the first of its kind anywhere in the world of law enforcement.
You know how on TV the cops can just type stuff in and get instant info? That’s what they’re trying to do with the Real Time Crime Center. Information networking they call it, but to me it’s just good old crime analysis. COMPSTAT, for Computerized Statistics, is a weekly precinct-by-precinct analysis of crime trends and hot spots. In New York, they can reduce violent crimes by putting 1,500 cops into a targeted location. That’s how NYC got to be the safest large city in the USA.
The next step is to look at crime data and intel in real time and shoot it out to the cops so they can see crime patterns and trends. Not only can they use their resources better to fight crime, but they can support investigators better to ID and catch the bad guys faster.
I’m amazed at how they’ve made different sources electronically searchable and user friendly. The department has at least 50 huge databases, all crime data warehouse from IBM to put all that info into a common format. They hooked the last 10 years of complaints, arrests and detective case information into a real-time feed from the 911 system.
The RTCC opened on July 18, 2005 and provides support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Today it has access to more than 5 million New York State criminal records, parole and probation files, more than 20 million New York City criminal complaints, arrests, 911/311 calls and summonses spanning five years, more than 31 million national crime records and over 33 billion public records!
The Crime Center uses satellite imaging and sophisticated mapping of New York City precinct-by-precinct. The link analysis capacity of the RTCC can track suspects to all of their known addresses and point detectives to the locations where they are most likely to flee.
Detectives can search the data sources easily, almost like using Google. If you can search for, say, “a white male, 5-foot-8-inches to 6-foot, doing robberies, in the Bronx, uses a silver gun, and targets old ladies," well, that can save a lot of the grunt work gathering your list of suspects.
The NYPD sends an incident response vehicle with every homicide squad in the five boroughs and one major case squad. These vans are on scene for all serious stabbings, shootings and homicides. With secure wireless access to the Real Time Crime Center, detectives can access and print out anything they need, out in the field.
Think about it. Before the detective starts to canvas the area, he’s got details about his location. incidents and arrests within a given distance of this crime, parolees, probationers and wanted felons in the area, open narcotics investigations, gang activity, the whole ball of wax. This is the stuff I’d love to know at a murder scene. Have there been a lot of drug arrests in the area? Is there a sexual predator nearby? Who the nosey neighbor that calls 911 all the time? The kind of stuff beat cops used to know.
And the Real Time Crime Center can put it all up on a screen. The detective gets a visual representation of the suspect or the location. He can see the relationships the suspect has with other criminals, other crimes, other cases, guns, and so on. It’s called a link analysis, with one person or location at the center. Then, graphical links are shown to phone numbers, known addresses, relatives, criminal records, whatever.
Another new trick is called crime mapping. The Real Time Crime Center identifies crimes and trends that used to require days for analysts to dope out. The Geographic Information System lets you even show where all the complaints are that make up what you think is a pattern. You can see all the crimes near bus stations, for example or near schools. This kind of pattern analysis is great for robberies or sex crimes.
The Real Time Crime Center even helps the cops when crimes cross jurisdictions. New York has been able to hook up with other agencies in and out of New York State, like the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Regional Intelligence Center. (Good stuff for a later blog.)
New York is THE big city, but I think the concept of the Real Time Crime Center can work for any police force. It saves more man-hours than anybody can count. And it gets the technology down to the street. Right now information in the center is available to the 37,000 police officers of the New York City Police Department.
If this keeps up, old fashioned private eyes like Hannibal Jones might end up out of business.