COPLINK nabs criminals faster
A E. Araiza / Staff
coordinator Sgt. Jennifer Schroeder, left,
and Detective Tim Petersen, center, confer with Hsinchun
Chen, who developed COPLINK at Tucson's Knowledge
Alan D. Fischer
Technology developed in Tucson is helping police
catch criminals faster.
COPLINK products let police agencies rapidly share
crime information across jurisdictional lines and
analyze the data, said Hsinchun Chen, founder of
Knowledge Computing Corp. and head of the University of
Arizona's Artificial Intelligence Lab. The system allows
investigators to access a wide variety of sources to
link suspects to crimes, identify and apprehend them.
The system, developed as a cooperative effort between
the UA and the Tucson Police Department, is expected to
expand beyond Tucson to allow regional
information-sharing among police agencies around the
COPLINK Connect, one of Knowledge Computing's two
products, collects data from non-linked computer systems
within a single agency or among different participating
agencies across jurisdictional lines. And COPLINK
Detect, a related but separate product, sifts through
the vast array of information and connects the clues to
identify suspects, vehicles and weapons.
COPLINK Connect allows law enforcement agencies to
use their existing data storage systems rather than
starting from scratch at great expense, Chen said. It
forms another system layer on top that allows the
varied, often incompatible systems to talk to each other
through a common Internet protocol.
COPLINK Detect adds information analysis to find
relationships between suspects, criminals, vehicles and
weapons. For example, detectives with three clues - a
suspect's first name, a partial license number and
vehicle color - could use COPLINK to sift through
computer records and identify the suspect.
"We use text mining to go into 1.5 million criminal
records and find associations, addresses, weapons and so
forth using the computer's power," Chen said.
Assembling information from myriad sources and
sorting clues, it takes 10 to 20 minutes to do what
could take detectives two or three days.
The system is secure because interagency information
exchange happens within protected "firewalls," he said.
The Tucson police will start phasing in COPLINK
Connect department-wide tomorrow said Sgt. Jennifer
Schroeder. The department will launch COPLINK Detect in
March, she said.
In early, limited use of the system, the department
has used COPLINK Connect with great success, Schroeder
said. Without it, several now-closed cases would have
gone unresolved, she said.
Criminals often commit crimes in neighboring
jurisdictions, Schroeder said. Linking people,
activities, weapons and vehicles among crimes reported
in Tucson and Phoenix, she said, enhances the likelihood
of apprehending criminals.
In one recent case, federal officers seeking a
suspect knew he had a sister living here, but did not
know her name. They did know, however, that she
reportedly was the victim of domestic violence, and they
knew her boyfriend's name.
Using COPLINK Connect, it took five minutes to fit
all the clues together and come up with the suspect's
name. Using more conventional investigation methods,
detectives would have had to sift through many sources
of records, with plenty of skill, luck and time to find
the suspect, Chen said.
"Any program that allows law enforcement agencies to
swap information has to be a plus," said George
Vuilleumier, president of the National Association of
Chiefs of Police, a 12,000-member group based in Miami.
"The more we exchange information the worse off the bad
guys will be."
In the past, Vuilleumier said, agencies seldom
exchanged case information because of a lack of
Detective Tim Petersen, one of 40 Tucson officers who
have used COPLINK regularly since October, called the
system, "very simple to catch onto. It's very
user-friendly and intuitive."
He said the system allows quick access to the
department's three data storage areas - data management,
gang records and mug photos - from a department
computer. It soon will be in patrol cars, too.
Before COPLINK, officers had to search files located
in different parts of town, Petersen said. "It's really
shortening the time I need to spend on record searches."
The technology was developed at the UA Artificial
Intelligence Lab with a $1.1 million grant from the
National Institute of Justice. Knowledge Computing Corp.
was spun off to sell the product. The company has an
exclusive licensing agreement with the UA's technology
transfer program, and pays the UA to use the technology
developed there, Chen said.
In addition to the initial grant, the program
received $1.2 million from the National Institute of
Justice to expand the program into Phoenix, and an
additional $2.6 million from private investors to launch
the commercial end of the business, he said. Also, the
UA received $1.6 million from the National Science
Foundation for further development of the COPLINK
technology, he said.
John H. Boone, vice president of sales and marketing
at Knowledge Computing, said the system costs about $500
per officer for the Connect product and $1,000 per
officer for the Detect portion. But the company is
offering introductory discounts of up to 70 percent.
Knowledge Computing has grown from one person - Chen
- to 25 in the past eight months. Chen expects to have
120 to 150 people in the coming year.
The company was founded four months ago at the UA
Science and Technology Park, but rapid growth resulted
in a move to 6,000 square feet of leased space at 3915
E. Broadway, Suite 301. And that site will soon be
outgrown, he said.
"We are constantly running out of space, and we are
constantly looking for high quality employees," he said.
* Contact Star Business reporter Alan D. Fischer
at 573-4175 or firstname.lastname@example.org