App puts information from multiple database quickly at officer fingertips to question suspects, help victims

With so many instances of law enforcement using digital technology in a way that violates due process -- be it email grabs, internet log demands, or smartphone data dumps -- it's nice to see technology be applied in a more respectful way to fight crime.

I. Fighting Crime, One App at a Time

The New York City Police Department (NYPD) has issued a new smartphone app to officers that offers a new twist to good old fashioned detective work.  It taps into public databases -- gun registration records, traffic accident records, crime victim notes, and various criminal records databases, to be precise -- to instantly determine if a person of interest owns a gun or has committed past crimes.  It even can display parolee photos.

Best of all the app is location aware -- so if officers are in a specific neighborhood, all the nearby registered gun owners, at-large suspects known to frequent/live in the area, and parolees all pop up.  The app also offers up a list of known cameras in the region to allow police to more quickly work with property owners to obtain video footage for use as evidence in criminal cases.

Officer Tom Donaldson told The New York Times, "You can see that in this one 14-story building there are thousands and thousands of records.  If I see that in the last month, there have been six arrests on the seventh floor for drug trafficking, maybe I want to hang out on the seventh floor for a while.  I tell them, ‘I’m going to see your picture.  They don’t realize we have this technology. They can’t tell me a lie because I know everything."

NYPD Officers w/ App
Officer Tom Donaldson, left, and Capt. Jerry O’Sullivan investigate an incident with their new app. [Image Source: The New York Times]

II. App Helps Cops Snag Suspect in Prostitution-Robbery Scheme

In one case Officer Donaldson and Capt. Jerry O’Sullivan questioned a woman whose car was idling outside a Harlem housing project.  The smartphone quickly told the officers that the license the woman gave them was fake; there was no record of a person of that name.  The app also told them that the car's license plate was linked to a prostitution and robbery scheme, in which the women enticed potential victims into a location where they would be robbed.

Cheers Capt. O'Sullivan, "Ordinarily, as a police officer, what would you do if you were out there late at night, in the cold and the rain, and somebody was being evasive with us? We wouldn’t have any answers.  Here, we had a phone."

NYPD app
[Image Source: The New York Times]

The officers say the app is particularly useful in domestic violence cases, as it provides details about how many times officers have been summoned to a residence, which the officers can then confront the abuser with.

Google Inc. (GOOG) would be pleased to know that the officers are using inexpensive Android smartphones for the trial deployment of the new app effort.  So far 400 of the app-equipped Android touch devices -- which are unable to make phone calls -- have been deployed to officers.

NYC cop
Getting information on suspects is normally a slow process with old-fashioned car conenctions.
[Image Source: Flickr]

Currently, the city's 2,500 police cars have a built-in app that provides access to many of the same databases, but entry requires separate password logins for each effort, as officers are not in their car at all times.  Further, the information is delivered more slowly and isn't location aware.  The automated information system also saves the department resources, as officers frequently have to call back to dispatchers for information.  Thus the crime-fighting app represents a huge leap forward for officers trying to assess dangerous situations.

Even New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman acknowledged that the app had the potential to do a lot of good commenting that it had "enormous promise to improve policing and public safety", while expressing some concerns that it could be perverted as "a vehicle to round up the usual suspects, to harass people."

The NYPD also recently unveiled more controversial efforts to troll social networks, hunting for crime.

Source: NYT

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