Los Angeles police use data analysis to fight terrorism

The Los Angeles Police Department's counterterrorism unit next month will begin using a new data analysis system designed to identify and connect related pieces of intelligence to help officers deter and respond to terrorist attacks.

The LAPD Counter Terrorism and Criminal Intelligence Bureau will be using the new US$1 million system to gather, collate, track, analyze and distribute intelligence information, including counterterrorism tips and leads. The system also will be used to analyze data related to organized crime, street gangs and money laundering.

The system, which uses data mining, analysis and visualization tools from Memex Inc., will allow about 80 LAPD officers to search multiple intelligence databases simultaneously and can provide proactive notifications and e-mail alerts to officers when patterns are identified, said Bob Fox, officer in charge of the analytical section in the major-crimes division of the counterterrorism bureau.

"One of the criticisms of the 9/11 Commission's report is agencies failed to connect the dots, bring pieces of information together that possibly would have prevented the 9/11 attacks," Fox said. "[Today], when somebody sits down at a computer and starts trying to check information, there are too many places to look. Memex will allow us to go to sources of information ... and with one entry search all of those sources to see if there are any linkages or connections to the information we are looking at."

Now, for example, if a citizen calls the department to report suspicious activity by a neighbor, officers have to search several different data sources for the person's name to see if he or she is in the system, he said.

"The more data sources you are required to look at, the more opportunity there is to miss something or forget something," Fox said.

The Memex system includes a hybrid relational and open text-search database paired with an intelligence engine that compresses data. That allows users to quickly and simultaneously search multiple databases without knowing where the data might be housed, said Mike Himley, general manager of the Western region at Vienna, Va.-based Memex.

For example, a user could search for references to a red Ford car without having to search in a vehicle field, and the system will bring back all references, including those that might be in Microsoft Word files from another officer's case notes, Himley said.

Memex, which specializes in analysis tools for law enforcement and intelligence agencies, is now installing a similar system in the Ohio attorney general's Bureau of Criminal Investigation & Identification. In addition, the state of New Jersey announced last year that it would use tools from Memex for statewide data analysis.

London's Metropolitan Police Service, also known as Scotland Yard, has been using tools from the company since 1993.

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