The New York Times profiles the NYPD's sophisticated anticrime computer network, a technical initiative begun in 2005 that has evolved into one of the department's most potent crime-fighting tools. The network, housed in a windowless room at One Police Plaza, is in essence a search engine, not unlike Google, that can quickly relay information to officers in the field. Teams of detectives inside the room, which the Police Department calls the Real Time Crime Center, peer into computer screens and plot cases on a 15-foot-high video screen that can display maps, diagrams, satellite images and surveillance camera photos.
Some of the data they provide is routine police investigative material, like a suspect's criminal history. But the center also stitches together the kind of information that has traditionally been buried in precinct file cabinets or detectives' notebooks: the names of people who have visited a convict in city jails and New York State prisons, aliases, recordings of all 911 calls made from any address in the city over the last 10 years and lists of tattoos, scars and nicknames of known felons. Law enforcement experts said the crime center was the department's most important technological initiative since the early 1990s, when it created Comstat, a system that uses computers to track crime patterns across the city and deploy officers accordingly.