A Missing Link Most Wanted
Column: THE DOWNLOAD
November 7, 2002; Page E1
Robert Griffin is one of the many former local technology
executives who for one reason or another got out of Washington
these past few years. Now he's thinking of coming back and
bringing a new company from Arizona with him, one whose technology
has already been at work locally -- on the sniper case that
recently terrorized Washington residents.
Griffin co-founded eMotion, a Vienna digital media company,
but left the company and moved to Tucson to take care of a family
emergency. In Tucson, he landed as the president of Knowledge
Computing, which has developed an artificial intelligence system
called Coplink that lets police departments connect relationships
to better solve crimes. The system uses police databases to show
links between people and places.
"We're good at finding leads," said Griffin, who has held
his position at the 13-person company since September. Many
perpetrators of crimes have previous-incident reports, points out
Griffin, and each report contains numerous clues.
As Washington conducted an all-out manhunt for the sniper,
Griffin offered the technology free to the Justice Department. The
system was set up in Montgomery County the day before arrests were
made in the case, so Coplink didn't catch the alleged snipers. But
it can help draw a clearer picture of what happened, in
preparation for prosecution.
"We can search [the alleged sniper's] other associations,"
says Griffin. "They can now start building a pattern of where this
Although Coplink -- created at the University of Arizona by
Hsinchun Chen, who directs the Artifical Intelligence Laboratory
at the university -- is patented software, its parent company
isn't the only one creating what's known as information-sharing
technology. MicroStrategy of Vienna and Templar of Alexandria both
sell data-mining software that helps organizations make better use
of their vast stores of information. And businesses such as i2 of
Dallas do "link analysis" by examining relationships shown through
Coplink is now being installed in police departments in
Boston, Des Moines and Redmond, Wash., and has been fully deployed
in Tucson, says Griffin.
Lt. Jennifer Schroeder has been managing Coplink in the
Tucson Police Department since 1999. She says the technology has
helped solve dozens of crimes in Arizona in the past year,
including homicides, robberies and aggravated assaults. "We are
just beginning to appreciate the value," she says. "It helps us
get to our own information without the interference of an
Earlier this year, says Schroeder, a person was beaten,
stabbed, shot and run over by a car. On the way to the hospital,
the victim was able to say to police that someone named "Shorty"
did it, says Schroeder. "That was all we had," she says.
Through the Coplink system, especially using information
about gang affiliations and prison records, police were able to
identify a likely suspect named "Shorty." An arrest was made the
same day, says Schroeder.
Of course, not every case is solved so easily. And
criminals moving from state to state -- or even city to city --
can evade Coplink's trail merely by spreading their clues far and
wide. Ideally, Schroeder says, the technology eventually will be
connected among different jurisdictions so information can be
shared. "The goal of the system is to bring more agencies
together," says Schroeder. Arizona is leading the pack in
combining intellectual forces: Schroeder says Tucson and Phoenix
will be linked by the end of the year. But it seems likely that
other regions, which have their own budgets, priorities and ways
of doing things, will be slow to cooperate.
And this is Griffin's toughest challenge: trying to get the
attention of as many police departments as he can while learning
much about how different jurisdictions operate.
Linking facts in the sniper case will be a big test of what
Coplink can do. Just for this project, all information from
Maryland, the District and Virginia and from federal databases
such as the FBI's Rapidstart is being collected in a single,
searchable data file. That means all the tips, sightings and other
clues eventually will be in one place, unblocked by state lines.
"We take all of the feeds and bring them all together," says
Because she's been using the system for so long, Schroeder
recently traveled to Maryland to help Montgomery County police
install Coplink. She agrees that the compilation of information
from several jurisdictions should showcase what the technology can
do and help build a stronger case.
Griffin says that at previous jobs he has worked to develop
technology that is nice to have, but not vital. The Coplink
project is different. "This is technology that is must-to-have,"
he says. He is hoping police departments across the country will
think so too.
Join Shannon Henry live online for a chat about her new
book, "The Dinner Club," today at noon at
www.washingtonpost.com/technology. Shannon Henry's e-mail address
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