Alaska adopts criminal data mining

Alaska Department of Safety

A consortium of Alaskan law enforcement agencies today announced a new information sharing initiative that uses the commercially-available Coplink system to analyze disparate pieces of data for investigative leads.

Seven agencies, including the Alaska Department of Safety and the Juneau and Anchorage police departments, participate in the Alaska Law Enforcement Information Sharing System (ALEISS). The organization will get federal funding for the first phase of the Coplink initiative.

The state, along with the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center — Northwest — part of the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice and based in Anchorage — will administer the funds. As part of the effort, agencies will establish privacy, security and responsibility protocols for using the system.

Coplink, created in 1998 at the Artificial Intelligence Lab at the University of Arizona at Tucson, can churn through vast quantities of unstructured information from various databases — such as sex offender, gang-related, mug shots, records management system, court citations, tax records, and even pawn broker records — to detect trends.

Users can search for leads by entering an individual's physical characteristics or name, an automobile description and other information. Algorithms can provide links between data and spit out probable leads for investigators to look into further.

The system, developed and marketed by Knowledge Computing Corporation, operates through a secure intranet and can assign different levels of access to users, based on the sensitivity of the information. It creates a detailed audit trail for every search.

ALEISS employees will be subject to background screenings — including fingerprint checks of state and federal criminal history repositories — before getting access to the system An employee with any type of felony conviction will be denied access to Coplink.

Coplink is being used in various jurisdictions across the country, including Tucson, where it was tested.

Bob Griffiths, director of NLECTC - Northwest, said the goal of the project is to eventually connect the entire state and ALEISS is in talks with other interested state agencies, such as the Department of Corrections. While the center is hosting subsets of data from the various agencies, data ownership still resides with the agencies.

NIJ, which provided a $302,000 grant, will test and evaluate the implementation of the technology to create a lessons-learned document that can be used by other agencies, he said. Adding more police departments in the future will depend on funding, he added.

The effort started in May 2002 when the NLECTC and other law enforcement officials invited the Tucson Police Department, which was the first agency to prototype Coplink, to demonstrate the system. It was demonstrated to the Alaska Association of Chiefs of Police in the fall. That led to the formation of ALEISS and a working group to hammer out all the protocols for using the system in a memorandum of understanding.

Greg Browning, assistant chief of police with the Juneau Police Department, said the system is quite user friendly and takes little training. Most communities in the state are technologically oriented and therefore using the system isn€t a cultural shift. The Juneau and Anchorage police departments are planning to install mobile data terminals in their cruisers soon and will provide Coplink access there.


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