IT abounds at police chief convention

Although no one was talking about a real life Robocop – not even an alpha version – high-tech crime fighting tools were prominently displayed at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre this week as 14,000 law enforcement executives attended the world’s largest policing conference

Dozens of booths touting the latest in crime-solving technology – from wireless video portals, to rugged-duty laptops, to a burglary-solving artificial intelligence – populated the vendors’ area of the 108th annual International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). In light of recent terrorist incidents, much of the IT on display addressed information sharing between levels of law enforcement, organizational streamlining and the hardening of physical security.

Montreal-based CGI’s Electronic Strategic Intervention Device Solution (eSID), developed for the Los Angles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) at the Canadian company’s Nashville offices, combines wireless handheld technology with encrypted digital video surveillance and a secure mobile intranet to increase situational awareness of an evolving incident.

With eSID, field officers will be able to set up paperback book-sized, off-the-shelf digital cameras, boot the system, and, three minutes later, the video feed will go up to the Department’s intranet. Live pictures can then be accessed through a browser so a team commander or outside expert – like a military bomb specialist, or a biological science expert – can see exactly what the deputies on the scene see, said captain Sid Heal, commander of the LASD’s special enforcement bureau.

“Historically we have talked on the phone or two-way radio, but as a layman, the deputy can’t necessarily tell what information on scene will be relevant to an expert. With this system we reduce the need to relate large amounts of verbal information and can develop a much more accurate, shared mental model of the situation,” said Heal, who also wrote the concept paper which prompted eSID’s development.

Calgary’s Leads Software Inc. was also at the IACP convention to demonstrate its integrated relational database designed to store criminal case information.

Leads, which provides software already in use on 1,500 terminals in Alberta’s provincial court system, uses a graphical user interface to manage queries, reporting tools, evidence records and is Web, e-mail and XML-enabled, allowing data to be shared between investigators, prosecutors and other jurisdictions, explained Martin Perry, the company’s CEO.

Agencies fully enabled with Leads will also be able to burn all the case’s text, visual and audio files down to a single CD-ROM for distribution to various parties – a considerable administrative boost given the vanloads of files that can accompany complex cases, and the $75 million to $100 million dollars per year the RCMP spends on photocopying, said Perry.

Anyone who has peeked through the window of a police cruiser lately has probably noticed that black and whites are sporting some impressive IT hardware these days, and if you happen to be in Chicago, the rugged mobile computer bolted to the dashboard was most likely developed and built by Montrael-based MicroSlate.

MicroSlate’s Pentium 3 laptops range in price from $5,500 to $8,000 and include GPS receivers, docking and sealed, backlit keyboards. Although the models on display at the IACP meeting were about the size of a phonebook, and weighed only six to eight pounds, “everyone always wants them lighter, smaller and faster, but with a 13-inch colour screen,” laughed Daniel Ouellette, the company’s president.

With studies suggesting that about four per cent of criminals commit 80 per cent of burglaries, Ottawa-based InvestigAide Software Inc. has developed a rules-based expert system that targets multiple offenders by identifying behaviour patterns and methods – essentially “behavioural fingerprints” – that are unique to specific criminals.

Company president Adam Jasek explained that after some 200 crime scene observations are entered into InvestigAide, the software’s artificial intelligence analyzes patterns and trends in the robbery to produce a criminal profile, then matches it to known suspects.

“The software won’t tell the police who to arrest, but it can point to a small group of suspects that have a high probability of having performed (the break-in),” Jasek said.

With an eye to the many agencies focused on hardening physical security, especially around ports of entry, Vancouver’s Imagis Technologies Inc. was demonstrating its ID-2000 image detection and biometric facial recognition software.

The ID-2000 uses a sophisticated mathematical algorithm, and a series of Active X controls to essentially map a deformable surface model over a facial image from a digital camera, screen capture, or even a scanned artist’s sketch, then compares it against a database of offenders, said Andy Amanovich, Imagis’s chief technology officer. Since it checks over 200 three-dimensional facial descriptors, the software can allow for ageing, weight gain and changes in facial hair – as demonstrated when the system was able to match before and after images of one considerably bulked-up suspect.

As well as identifying bad guys caught on film, this technology can be layered at airport access points to ensure that the individual who is cleared at check-in is the same one who passes metal detectors and ultimately boards the airplane, Amanovich said.

However, with a $30,000 price tag for a single PC system useful for small police detachments, and up to US$5 million for a big airport installation, Amanovich said most Canadian policing agencies don’t yet have the budget for this kind of technology. Even though the RCMP unit at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport and several forces in Western Canada have implemented Imagis systems, 90 per cent of the company’s business is in the United States, Amanovich noted, including 32 California departments plugged into a single, networked database.

Recently, Amanovich has also observed a change in the tone of the cops who witness Imagis’s demos.

“In the past, questions from law enforcement were always about cost – in the last three days here (at the IACP conference) I haven’t had one question about cost, only ‘when can I get it’ and ‘how do I make it work.’ Everyone is a lot more serious now,” he said.

The IACP is at

The LA County Sheriff’s Dept. is at and CGI, in Montreal, is at

Leads is at

MicroSlate is at

InvestigAide is at

Imagis is at