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Tucson cops, local software to help in D.C. sniper probe
Hsinchun Chen shows Tucson police Detective Tim Petersen
(right) how to use COPLINK software in January 2001. Chen led a University
of Arizona Artificial Intelligence Lab team in developing COPLINK
software. Peterson is one of two Tucson officers who will travel to
Washington, D.C., to assist officers there in the use of
Citizen file photo
Oct. 23, 2002
A computer database system that Tucson police employ in crime
investigations will be used in the hunt for the Washington, D.C.-area
sniper or snipers.
Two Tucson police officers were scheduled to leave for Washington
today to assist investigators in using the system.
Federal officials asked Tucson police for help in using the
It allows investigators to feed leads and other data on a case
into a computer system, and a software program then provides advanced
analytical and search capabilities for investigators.
Lt. Jennifer Schroeder and Detective Tim Petersen will assist
investigators in Washington with installation, training and operation
involving COPLINK, developed at the University of Arizona.
The Montgomery (Md.) County Police Department, through the
Justice Department, requested the help, said Sgt. Judy Altieri, a police
Four advisers from Knowledge Computing Corp., the local firm that
provides support for COPLINK, will accompany the local officers.
So much information has been generated by the sniper
investigation that investigators need some way to sort it, Schroeder
"They are having trouble making sense of it all," she said. "And
we would love to be part of catching this person."
Knowledge Computing is an investment company founded two years
ago and primarily funded by Diamond Ventures, said the company's
president, Robert Griffin.
"We maintain very strong ties with the university," he
The technology company has an agreement with UA to commercialize
technology from the Artificial Intelligence Lab, he added.
"So we will be there to provide analytic support," he said. "Our
technology helps them sort through all the information they have
Griffin said the computer system works so well that dozens of
crimes have been solved in Tucson and other parts of the country.
A case last year involving an attempted murder was solved with
the system, Griffin said.
Data on the crime and individuals involved were put into COPLINK,
and associations were made, Griffin said. Suspects were arrested within
hours of the crime.
Also, he said the company was recently in Des Moines, Iowa, to
train law officers to use the system.
During the two-day training program, four suspects in previous
crimes were identified and arrested.
COPLINK was founded by Hsinchun Chen, head of UA's Artificial
Intelligence Lab, Griffin said.
The Police Department got involved when Schroeder and Petersen
received a grant from the National Institute of Justice to create a law
The program was started in 1997 with the development of a
prototype for technology engineering, Chen said.
The idea of applying it to police work came from a former
student, Brad Cochran, a Tucson police sergeant at the time. The work
produced a good tool, he said.
"This is a very unusual and successful program," Chen said. Most
of the success is due to "working with such a progressive law enforcement
agency as the Tucson Police Department."
Chen said the computer system "is being explored for the use by
the federal government in the work on terrorism."
HOW COPLINK WORKS:
The system digs through databases and reports to pick out
connections among suspects, vehicles, crimes, locations and other data. It
gives police the capability, with limited information, to find
investigative leads they don't get anywhere else.
Simply put, it searches separate databases at various agencies
and returns information based on a query.
For example: If a robbery were committed by a person identified
as Ben, who was driving a white van, and Ben was known to associate with a
gang member named Beetle, the investigator would input that information.
COPLINK would search the database and list all cases Ben was involved in
previously, as well as all of Beetle's cases and information on any
associated witnesses or suspects in each of those cases.
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