Filing large amounts of disparate and seemingly unconnected evidence is standard operating procedure in criminal investigations, but it can also become an administrative burden.
A new “evidence database” being developed for the Cape Breton Police Service in Nova Scotia seeks to resolve this issue.
The database is being created by IBM Research, in collaboration with the Cape Breton Police Service, Cape Breton University and local business software manufacturer ADM Solutions Inc. based in Dominion, Nova Scotia.
Once deployed, it will allow officers to remotely file and recover data from their squad car computer.
In addition to speeding up information filing and retrieval, the database will drastically cut down paperwork, support decision making, help detectives quickly identify links and patterns, and accurately track the progress on an investigation.
Research on the project has been going on for the past eight months and the system will be available for testing by six Cape Breton officers by next week.
Dubbed the Detective Analytic Workbench or DAW, the database digitally stores information such as interview tapes and wiretaps, scanned documents, forensic reports, 911 messages, as well as photos and video footage from surveillance tapes.
The database categorizes and cross-references information and prepares it for instant retrieval over a secured network.
“This project cuts the paperwork so detectives can concentrate on the footwork,” said Inspector Miles Burk of the Cape Breton Regional Police.
Rather than searching through files in the police station, an officer at a crime scene can access the system and enter a query for common links, patterns and objects such as vehicles, weapons and even faces. “It gives our detectives the ability to make key decisions faster in determining the direction of the investigation.”
Another area where DAW could be potentially used is in preparing material for disclosure in courts.
A typical court case often involves stacks of documents. Where originals are not necessary, digital versions of files can lessen the load and shorten the time to search for specific entries.
With IBM’s voice recognition software, interrogators will be able to reduce the number of typed transcripts by using digital audio recordings. Miles said the software has an 80 per cent accuracy rate which may not be acceptable in court but is good enough for investigation purposes.
IBM, Cape Breton University and AMB are working together on the research and development of the database, according to Paul McCullough, business unit executive for public safety and defence at IBM.
The police department, he said, helps in determining features most needed by law enforcement agencies.
For instance, beat officers pushed for the inclusion of a case timeline application to help track the progress of an investigation. This feature was not initially considered by developers.
Sarah Conrod, manager of special projects at the Cape Breton University, said technology course students test the DAW’s performance against results of previously solved crimes. “We manage the alpha and beta testing of the applications and provide the other parties with feedback.”
Although the project is geared towards the policing community, McCullough said he foresees other uses. “By extracting context out of content, we see possible applications in the commercial and the intelligence communities.”
IBM assets being used in the project include the DB2 database content manager software , which manages document life cycles, OmniFind search software designed for corporate Web sites and the WebSphere set of software products that help integrate electronic business applications across Web-based networks.
McCullough said concerns the system would infringe on privacy rights would be unfounded.
He said only information already available and allowable in police files will be fed into the database. The data is encrypted for security purposes.
Another law enforcer thinks the Cape Breton project is going in the right direction. Cpl. David Peters, program analyst for the technology crime branch, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Ottawa says any tool that cuts down paperwork is certainly welcome. “Anyone who has worked in a critical investigation knows that paperwork bogs the investigation down.”
He said the RCMP also employs an automated database but is not sure if it is similar to the one being developed in Cape Breton.
Back in 1991, Sgt. Greg Johnson, a serious crimes investigator with little computer knowledge, headed a team that developed the RCMP’s Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System (ViCLAS), said Peters.
The automated crime database incorporated some of the best features found in U.S. criminal profiling and tracking systems.
The ViCLAS is being deployed in police centres across Canada. Burke hopes DAW will get the same exposure some day. “Should it prove successful, I hope DAW can be deployed by the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC).”
The CPIC is a Web-based information network linking all Canadian law enforcement agencies.