Silicon-based ‘detectives’ team up with flesh-and-blood police

Will computers one day replace that TV drama favorite, the police detective? Analytics programs might not offer Columbo’s quirky brand of human insight or “Minority Report”-like prescience, but they’re advancing rapidly in their own abilities to put more than two and two together.

In other words, it’s no accident that IBM’s Jeopardy!-winning computer system is named “Watson.”

A growing number of police and public safety departments around the world are already finding that silicon-based detective work is providing invaluable help to traditional, carbon-based detectives. Consider these examples:

  • Smarter technology is helping to bring together public-safety agencies that have traditionally had separate responsibilities: police and fire, for example. In Hamburg, Siemens helped put in place a command-and-control center that lets information systems for police, fire and ambulance service work together seamlessly. The technology helps to prevent response delays caused by poor communication among agencies. A similar system put in place in the United Arab Emirates also manages a nationwide network of surveillance cameras.
  • In Rochester, Minnesota, the police department plans to use IBM software to analyze incident patterns in its report data. The goal? To predict the location of crime “hot spots” ahead of time and use that to proactively send more resources to troubled areas.
  • IBM is also working with the Las Vegas Metro Police Department to deploy its i2 crime analytics program. The program helps scour through information from four separate law-enforcement databases to identify “hidden clues”: non-obvious connections between people, places, vehicles, electronic devices and other things that can generate leads for solving crimes.
  • Police officials in Northern Ireland say such analytics tools have helped their department reduce recorded crime rates in the area to their lowest levels in more than 10 years.

“It’s not just about connecting the dots but the right dots in minutes and hours versus days or weeks or longer,” says Robert Griffin, head of i2 at IBM.

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