New England police test name software

Regional Information Sharing Systems

State and local law enforcement agencies are turning to software predominantly used by intelligence agencies to help them recognize the structure and cultural history of personal names as another tool in battling street crime and terrorism.

This summer, about 16 law enforcement officers, all members of the New England State Police Information Network (NESPIN), tested Name Reference Library (NRL) software developed by Herndon, Va.-based Language Analysis Systems Inc.

The software provides an in-depth understanding of names, their formats, what meanings they carry within families, their gender association and their likely country of origin. Foreign names do not always fit the three-part Western format — a given name, middle name and surname — that Americans are used to. There could also be different spellings of names identifying the same individual.

This understanding is important because law enforcement officers say they may be at a disadvantage by not knowing a nationality or ethnicity of an individual involved in an investigation.

The two-day intensive program focused on three languages: Arabic, Chinese and Korean. Participants conducted numerous exercises regarding names within each language and learned to use NRL, which actually contains data on 17 languages. Participants received certifications for successful completion of the program.

Jack Hermansen, the software company's chief executive officer, said he decided to test NRL at NESPIN to see if first responders found it useful. "We heard from numerous people in the federal government that they were constantly being asked by state and local officials to help with names," he said.

Justin Salvatore, a research analyst for NESPIN, said terrorism was a significant motivator in the decision to provide this training.

The software was so well-received by NESPIN — a congressionally funded regional information-sharing center composed of member law enforcement agencies from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont — that represen-tatives said they would purchase the software.

NESPIN Director William Deyermond said his center would also send a report to the other five Regional Information Sharing Systems centers regarding the software's usefulness and invite representatives if another training session is held.

For example, he said, the NRL software could help police officers, intelligence technicians and analysts get variations of names and possible countries of origin if they're dealing with Asian gang violence. "They're throwing bait out there and hoping to get a bite," Deyermond said. "It gives them locations and places they can go to look for more information."

Searching through criminal databases for one name may not yield any hits if officers only have one known spelling of a name. But entering variations might return more data. Rick Flood, a retired police officer and NESPIN training coordinator, considered the software to be as valuable as any training or weapon an officer receives. When he was a police officer, he said he dealt with many new Vietnamese immigrants.

"I have to be honest," Flood said. "I had no clue what their last name was. They would give us a name, we would write it down, and we would say, 'OK, this must be their last name, and this must be their first name.' I would guess more than half the time we were wrong."

Deyermond said the training would allow police officers to be more knowledgeable about how to record certain foreign names when they ask individuals, rather than relying on the individuals' ability to spell them.

For example, Salvatore said Korean surnames come first and are most likely one syllable. Their given names are likely two syllables. They are much shorter than Arabic names, which can be composed of up to 10 parts and reference family lineage, he added.

Hermansen said Language Analysis Systems was primarily a consultant with the intelligence community for the past 20 years, until the late 1990s, when the federal government encouraged it to commercialize the software for use in the private sector and state and local governments.

Although there are many components of the software, Hermansen said NRL is immediately useful, containing a repository of 17 languages, including in-depth coverage of eight languages and cultures.

"It has a huge amount of information about what happens when a woman in a certain culture gets married," he said. It answers questions such as: "Does she change her name or not? What surname do children use? Why are there problems when these names are spelled in the Roman alphabet? It's an enormous encyclopedic wealth of information."

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