Data Cop 2001: The Integrated Officer

Law enforcement may become the world's biggest infotech market

here may be a simple explanation for why high-tech companies are so excited about the law enforcement market: That's where the money is. Call it the old switcharoo.

"A lot of the attention both politically and budgetarily that used to be lavished on DoD is now lavished on DoJ and Treasury -- because that's a high concern of the general public," said Mark Filteau, president of Information & Engineering Technology at Dyncorp, Reston, Va.

And where generalized concern leads, budgets tend to follow. The Department of Justice plans to increase spending on information technology from $788 million in 1993 to a peak of $945 million in 1995 -- with yearly planned expenditures remaining above 1993 levels through the end of the century. If all goes according to plan, Justice will get a high-speed network connecting 30,000 users, a nationwide database of digitized fingerprints, 20,000 PCs, and fancy new databases to help with a ballooning litigation backlog.

And that may just be the beginning. State and local law enforcement is eagerly awaiting its Cold War dividend in the form of increased access to federal resources. In turn, states will need new computers, consultants and scads of new communication gear . This is, perhaps, the single largest integration opportunity in history -- and one that few politicians, Republican or Democrat, are likely to resist.

It's no wonder the alphabet soup of Beltway-oriented high-tech shops -- from PRC to TRW -- have embraced law enforcement as one of their key growth opportunities for well into the next century. PRC Inc.'s law enforcement business is worth about $80 million annually -- and growing at twice the rate of its overall business.

Already, Harris Corp., PRC Inc. and SAIC International have won contracts to build key parts of a nationwide fingerprint database. And TRW Inc., Unisys Corp. and Martin Marietta are all waiting for a final decision on a third contract to complete this system.

Moreover, just about every major computer hardware and software supplier is lining up behind these firms to get a piece of the action. Barely a day goes by without a company announcing some new gadget or computer system to win the war against crime. Companies such as Polaroid, Kodak, NEC, Printrak and others have bombarded the press with announcements of new products to automate the old analog fingerprint system. Meanwhile, Roger Cooper, the chief information officer at the Department of Justice, has easily become the most wanted breakfast speaker in Washington. He regularly trots out the same set of slides and procurement plans for an audience of eager, note-scribbling contractors.

So what gives? Why all the attention?

The answer is pretty much a no-brainer: The public believes crime is rampant and getting worse. And politicians like to sound tough -- particularly given the recent elections.

So schemes to control the problem with the technology have therefore acquired a certain political cache.

Combine these factors with America's abiding faith that technology can solve any problem, and you have a market opportunity. Take the Brady Bill. It mandates gun-shop owners to check the backgrounds of potential gun-owners -- through a nationwide database that has yet to be created -- before making a sale. The bill has generated $88 million in 1995 federal funds for state and local governments to get access to a criminal database checking system. And the FBI is busy planning a nationwide instant check system to be designed, purchased and switched on by 1998.

Meanwhile, nearly everyone seems to agree the state of the art at most law enforcement operations is woefully behind the times -- vintage 1960s, at best.

Police departments need new computers, if they have them at all. Electronic databases, where they exist, adhere to a myriad of standards. And they operate as isolated -- and largely impregnable -- islands of data. "[The law enforcement] community is quite backward [in terms of new access to new technology]," says Herb Blitzer, head of Kodak's law enforcement business. He should know. Blitzer recently spent six months as part of an executive "loan" program working for the mayor of Indianapolis and its police department. He examined the entire booking and investigation process and found -- perhaps self-servingly, given his job at Kodak -- that management of mug shots and photographic evidence was one of the biggest bottlenecks. Policemen wasted days, and even weeks, looking for images and connecting them with relevant files. So Kodak has developed a total case management system it calls Quicksolve.

The opportunities for companies able to pull together these islands of data are huge. Law enforcement is mostly about finding data links -- an audit trail -- for suspected criminals. It is the perfect candidate for what is called a hypertext link, an electronic pathway forged between related bits of information, photos, sound clips, even video. Click on Joe Criminal and up pops his record. A further click leads to information about a specific crime, and yet another electronic thread unravels to reveal his psychological makeup, childhood, family connections and so forth.

In fact, there is much in common between the rush to create a kind of universal customer database and an integrated criminal database. Both focus on gathering, organizing and presenting information about a person -- one a consumer, the other a criminal. They can tell users an individual's habits, quirks and personal preferences. They fuse information from multiple sources and agencies -- from investigation and prosecution to prison and parole, from college loan and the first credit card to mortgage and IRA. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that companies long involved in massaging data in the intelligence community have branched into consumer databases and law enforcement. TRW is perhaps the most prominent example.

There is, of course, a potential downside to all this, at least from the perspective of civil libertarians. A single database, accessible to law enforcement officials and containing an individual's most embarrassing skeletons, can be a potent tool for blackmail. Last year, IRS workers made the news after they were discovered perusing the annual earnings of superstars such as Madonna. That's only a hint of the kind of problems that could be looming.

Technology can also be a double-edged sword for law enforcement. In a digital world, every digitized piece of evidence -- particularly a photograph -- is a copy. And every copy of that copy can be altered, with little way of telling which is the original and which isn't. The ability to alter digital evidence raises serious, and unresolved, questions about the admissibility of such evidence.

Then there is the ongoing challenge of encryption and wiretapping in a digital world. The law-enforcement community already showed it could sway lawmakers last year, prompting Congress to pass a law that forces the American taxpayer to cough up $500 million to help the phone companies ensure the FBI's ability to eavesdrop on conversations over the increasingly digital information superhighway.

But the cryptographic cat is out of the bag. Widely available, and largely uncrackable, encryption techniques can be easily downloaded over the Internet. That means criminals, as well as Joe Public, can effectively mask their private conversations from listening authorities. And despite the Administration's controversial attempts to control the export and spread of cryptography, there is probably little that can be done to restrict this technology.

And the IRS could be instructive in other ways. For more than two decades the agency has tried and failed to automate its operations. Certainly, the technology to do so has long been available. The stumbling block has been concerns over privacy. Will similar concerns scuttle law enforcement buying plans? Will a criminal justice system shot through with intricate procedures for who can access evidence -- and when -- be willing to put sensitive criminal information into an easily accessible, nationwide database? What assurances are there that local and state authorities, or federal for that matter, will not abuse the privilege?

Such questions, however, are not discouraging eager defense contractors and systems integrators. They have all the right tools: super-sophisticated databases, advanced biometric recognition systems, artificial intelligence software, super-secure hardware and software, wireless communication links -- in sum, all those nifty gadgets and computer tools that get put into action against foreign enemies and spies.

Contractors also appear to have the right political connections. For instance, earlier this year, a group of defense contractors managed to persuade liberal Pat Schroeder, D-Colo., to get the Pentagon, through the Advanced Research Projects Agency, to spend $37 million for a series of centers to transfer military and spy technology to local and state law enforcement.

Still, there is much that smacks of wishful thinking in all the excitement and techno-hype. Despite the obvious need and promise for new technology, the market isn't going to cough up instant revenues. Though it may be true Justice is planning to spend more on law enforcement, there is little such largesse being distributed to local and state agencies. Budgets for law enforcement will never reach the level of spending on exotic technologies for defense in the 1980's.

Furthermore, "this is not a mass market," says Kodak's Blitzer. Once companies move beyond the federal government, the market becomes extremely fragmented. Jurisdictions vary widely in the technology they use, their methods of administration, technological sophistication and available resources. For that reason, Kodak has narrowed its sites to about 300 opportunities. And if it is true that crime grows, at least partially, from intractable social problems, then it is probably equally true that any technical fix is likely to fall far short of addressing crime's root causes.

Neural nets, other "cutting edge" technologies find applications in tracking criminals

There are all manner of applicable gee-whiz technologies in the law enforcement arena -- from wireless command and control-like communications to facial recognition systems.

General-purpose pattern recognition systems using so-called neural networks may be one of the most promising. This technology is modeled after the way the brain is thought to process information -- separating data into like categories, immediately recognizing similar patterns and drawing correlations. ARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency, has funded research into these technologies for decades. One application in law enforcement -- developed by Booz- Allen & Hamilton for the FBI -- matches photos of shell casings found at the scene of a shooting against digitized images of previous casings found at crime scenes and entered into a database. Matches have helped establish links between crimes previously thought to be unrelated. Prior to such technology, law enforcement officials would have to manually check hard-copy photos, one by one.

Another proposed application would identify suspects in public areas -- terrorists, for instance -- against a database of stored images. Imagine an infrared camera whirring and clicking from above the departures security gate at Dulles Airport. The camera pans the passengers as they empty their pockets and walk through, zapping their infrared images to a desktop computer nearby. A thirtieth of a second later, the passenger's "aura" is turned into a digital code, a pattern, and the the image of this pattern is fed into a special computer program. Within seconds, the infrared picture is shot through high-speed computer links to an FBI database housing the infrared images of the world's most wanted criminals and terrorists. A positive match prompts an order to nab the suspect.

A company called Betac Corp., Alexandria, Va., has in fact developed just such a method of discerning the distinctive infrared "auras" given off by every individual. And combined with neural networks, it could be a potent tool for surveillance and counter-terrorism -- at political rallies, in front of the White House, in airports.

Another firm called Miros Inc., Wellesley, Mass., aims to apply its neural networking technology to one of the biggest sources of fraud: driver's licenses doctored with someone else's photo. Michael Kuperstein, president of the company and a pioneer in artificial intelligence, envisions a nationwide system of digitized driver's license photos. When the policeman pulls over a driver, and checks the license, the document is matched against that database.

"It's an early market and there are lots of competitors," says Kuperstein.

Kodak sees law enforcement as one of its most promising markets for the emerging digital camera, now in its third generation at the venerable Rochester, N.Y. company. Herb Blitzer, manager of the law enforcement business at Kodak, is ramping up efforts to make digital cameras a standard evidence-gathering tool at crime scenes.

In fact, law enforcement may yet kickstart Kodak's digital photography business, which initially focused on consumer markets. But the Photo CD product bombed in that segment. "It didn't work as a consumer product, but it got picked up by the publishing and printing industries," he says. "Now we're moving it into law enforcement."

And the firm wants to team up those cameras with other tools, such as scanners, to enter and digitize existing law enforcement data into digital files.

Meanwhile, a slumping aerospace industry -- particularly among those companies involved in intelligence -- has high hopes it can sell its expertise to police.

Using sophisticated photo analysis techniques, the Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, Calif. , helped the County of Los Angeles nab a murder suspect. The murder of a police officer on Dec. 27, 1993 was taped by nearby bank cameras, which captured the suspect driving away. But only with the aid of Aerospace Corp.'s digital enhancement and computer manipulation -- technology originally designed to determine missile system failures -- were authorities able to identify the make of the getaway car.

Vehicle tracking and position location equipment also holds much promise. Already, trucking fleets and other commercial users are using the Pentagon's Global Positioning System satellites to locate vehicles -- and place their location on digital maps in real time. Rockwell has built such systems, called Fleetmaster, as part of dispatch centers for police departments.

--Andrew Jenks

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