Boston’s Police Department is rolling out a powerful new computer program built to find hidden connections among people and events almost instantly, the Boston Globe reports. The system should allow detectives to investigate murders, rapes, and other crimes far faster. Called “Coplink,” the program sifts through tens of millions of police records, from 911 calls to homicide investigations, to deliver a short list of potential leads in just seconds. The same kind of searching now takes hours or even days of a detective’s time, when it is possible at all.
Designed in an Arizona artificial intelligence lab, Coplink searches through arrest records, incident reports, and emergency phone calls to identify potential suspects and compile all possible leads on them, including past addresses, weapons they have owned, and even the arrest records of people with whom they have been stopped in a car.
The program is part of a nationwide push by law-enforcement agencies, from elite intelligence services to rural police departments, to use the power of modern computing to pull together far-flung pieces of information. It reflects a growing recognition in law enforcement that many significant clues may be overlooked because they are lost in a maze of isolated computer databases. Before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, for example, FBI agents in different field offices had become concerned about suspicious people at flight training schools, but their computers gave them no way to see that the cases were part of a broader pattern.
Coplink has already been installed in a handful of cities and counties, mostly in the West: Tucson and Phoenix; Redmond, Wash.; Huntsville, Texas; Polk County, Iowa; and Montgomery County, Va. Though the program is bound to alarm some privacy advocates with its relentless drive to find even the most subtle connections between people and events, officers point out that the software does nothing police don’t already do, and it is still the police — not the machine — deciding what leads are worth following.
Coplink is built on the knowledge that the majority of crimes are committed by people who already appear in police records, either for previous offenses or for connections to other incidents. In Tucson, Coplink has helped track down rapists, murderers, and other violent criminals based on the slimmest of clues.