Software that would humble a Soprano
New Jersey looks to expand the use of its law-enforcement intelligence database to police throughout the state and even to federal and international agencies.
By Larry Greenemeier
In a move to use intelligence as the primary weapon in its law-enforcement arsenal, the New Jersey attorney general's office has announced a deal worth at least $10 million to make its Statewide Intelligence Management System, or SIMS, available to officers and investigators at all 650 police agencies operating in the Garden State.
To expand the use of SIMS, the state has procured additional licenses for Memex Inc. database and search software. The state also plans to extend its SIMS training program to include prospective officers at the academy level.
Since 2002, the Memex Intelligence Engine database has served as the foundation for a system that lets New Jersey State Police intelligence specialists search databases statewide for information that could help them with criminal investigations. Now the state wants to put that investigative power into the hands of all state and local police officers in New Jersey and offer access to the system to other states, federal law-enforcement agencies, and international crime fighters.
"No other state has initiated a statewide intelligence-sharing initiative that includes all state police as well as federal agencies," says Capt. Steve Serrao, New Jersey Office of Counterterrorism assistant director for operations and counterterrorism bureau chief for the New Jersey State Police. "We're now working to connect with police in the U.K."
SIMS is currently available to state police investigators as well as police detectives with local police departments. The system can be used by a trooper or detective looking for information that can help in the investigation of a crime that's under their jurisdiction. For example, if a detective investigating a string of burglaries has a partial license plate number, a suspect's nickname, or the description of a suspect's tattoo, that user can enter the information into the system to see if something similar has been reported in another jurisdiction, Serrao says. The system will then check that query against any intelligence information available. "It helps make connections and helps put the right police personnel in touch with each other," he adds.
Law-enforcement entities using Memex's technology first pull data from a variety of sources into the company's Memex Intelligence Engine database, which features a flat-text search capability that reduces the possibility of missing any key words during search and retrieval, says Memex CEO Kim Wilson. "This is the best way for searching for data that's incomplete," he adds. "It's tailored to the unique needs of law enforcement and counterterrorism."
"It's intelligence-led policing. We want this to be not only the accepted way to fight crime, but the preferred way," says Lt. John Menafra, SIMS administrator and New Jersey State Police unit leader for intelligence management. "We want to provide this to every police officer in the state eventually."
Law-enforcement agencies worldwide are using Memex's technology, including the London Metropolitan Police at Scotland Yard and the Pennsylvania State Police, Wilson says. Scotland Yard has 32,000 registered users and can carry out 1,200 concurrent searches across its systems. The Pennsylvania State Police uses Crime Workbench, which features the Memex Intelligence Engine database, as an operational intelligence and case-management system to provide analysts and investigators with search and analysis capabilities. The system also is used to push out alerts and other information to officers in the field, Wilson says.
"We would love to be able to share information with Pennsylvania, but privacy laws there prevent them from sharing information outside the state," Menafra says. "We can share with them, but they can't share with us."
New Jersey also is working with state police in Delaware, Ohio, and New York, as well as police departments in Baltimore and New York City. Other city and state police have expressed interest in sharing data, and Menafra says New Jersey plans to train officials from the Homeland Security Department's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Office of Naval Intelligence to use SIMS.
Intelligence gathering is nothing new to the New Jersey State Police; it has been keeping card files on organized crime organizations since 1967. But the mobility of modern-day criminals and terrorists requires an equally nimble law-enforcement response. By the summer of 1999, state police were looking to replace their mainframe-based system for storing and retrieving information about criminals and suspected criminals with a moreversatile intelligence system. After consulting with the Pennsylvania State Police, New Jersey planned for a fall 2001 deployment of Memex's technology, which serves as the backbone for SIMS.
Sept. 11, 2001, pushed the Memex system's deployment back until the spring of 2002. When it did come online, Memex's software gave troopers the ability to electronically add report information themselves, rather than submitting paper reports and waiting for someone else to input the records. Troopers also could search reports on SIMS via the state's wide area network called the Garden State Network.
But 9/11 taught troopers that they needed access to more than criminal records. Terrorists are now considered a domestic threat. "We learned after 9/11 that we had no statewide system for processing tips and leads," Serrao says. Those capabilities were developed in 2003 and implemented in January 2004.
The ultimate goal is to ensure that all 40,000 of New Jersey's police officers -- state and local -- know how to use the system. When the state made its initial purchase from Memex in 2001, "we realized we didn't have enough software to go around," Serrao says, adding that now they have a site license for use of Memex's technology across the state.