With an emphasis on surveillance, evidence, and reporting, law enforcement is an extremely data-intensive field and the New York City Police Department, as the largest agency which deals with the largest American city, has the most data to handle. Lately, with the NYPD’s greater focus on counterterrorism and projects like the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative to increase sensor presence at high-risk sites, the department has had even more information to deal with, leading it to partner with Microsoft and build a solution that can leverage it.
With Microsoft handling the coding and NYPD officers dictating the requirements, the Domain Awareness System was developed to aggregate and analyze existing public safety data streams in real time for investigators and analysts. Unlike many law enforcement data tools, the Domain Awareness System was, according to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, “created by police officers for police officers.” In return for their help, Microsoft will give the NYPD and New York City 30% of the proceeds when it sells the system to other law enforcement and counterterrorism organizations.
The system has roughly 3,000 closed-circuit cameras connected to it, mostly in Lower Manhattan, some of which are privately owned and operated. It also pulls data from license-plate readers that can track the location of vehicles and multiple databases including non-NYPD intelligence sources. The system also integrates 911 calls, previous crime reports, and radiation detectors. Through an intuitive graphic interface, this information can be quickly queried together and mapped. Unless the NYPD chooses to archive it, video is stored for 30 days, license plate information and metadata is retained for 5 years, and environmental data will be kept indefinitely.
The Domain Awareness System gives the NYPD a number of new, powerful capabilities. For example, if a suspicious package is reported, the department can find video footage from relevant cameras then rewind to see who left it there. More information can also now be queried and correlated across time and space to reveal patterns and trends. Investigators can also use license plate readers to track down a suspect’s vehicle, discover where it has been, and monitor its movements. While these and countless other powers will make investigations, criminal analysis, and resource planning easier, civil libertarians are already uneasy with surveillance reminiscent of “Big Brother.” The NYPD assures privacy groups that facial recognition will not be used, that only information currently being collected separately will be integrated into the Domain Awareness System, and that only public areas will be monitored. The Domain Awareness System, unlike similar Big Data solutions in cities like Los Angeles, also does not appear to have a predictive component.
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