IBM supercomputers help law enforcement gather, analyze, and manage crime data

The Intelligent Operations Center combines technologies acquired by IBM in recent acquisitions with the company’s own analytics technologies created in collaboration with cities around the world

In mid-February of this year, IBM’s Watson supercomputer — named after company founder Thomas Watson — all but dismantled Jeopardy “super champions” Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Throughout the tournament, there were interstitial elements of commentary about the potential for a Watson-like supercomputer to eventually help medical personnel triage patients’ various levels of needed care as well as other decision-based intelligence collection. More than once during these little commercial interludes I wondered to myself how this technology could also be applied to the massive difficulty facing cities and towns with regard to threat analysis and police response.

Four months hence, I received an email from an IBM representative inviting me to speak with IBM Director of Public Safety Mark Cleverley on the topic of how “IBM is taking a leadership position in helping municipalities around the world keep their citizens safe.” Naturally, I took the bait.

Now, bear in mind that Watson is a prototype — purpose built for the three-night trivia throw-down with Jennings (who won a record 74 consecutive ‘Jeopardy!’ games) and Rutter (who holds has won more money on ‘Jeopardy!’ than any other competitor in the show’s history) — but IBM has a history of using prototypes to demonstrate the real-world capabilities the company is capable of creating. Some of us are old enough to remember the two-part chess tournament between Garry Kasparov and a supercomputer named Deep Blue (Kasparov took round one in 1996, Deep Blue won the rematch in 1997).

In mid-February of this year, IBM’s Watson supercomputer — named after company founder Thomas Watson — all but dismantled Jeopardy “super champions” champions Ken Jennings (left) and Brad Rutter
In mid-February of this year, IBM’s Watson supercomputer — named after company founder Thomas Watson — all but dismantled Jeopardy “super champions” champions Ken Jennings (left) and Brad Rutter (not pictured)

The IBM Intelligent Operations Center for Smarter Cities
The technology Cleverley and I discussed is called the IBM Intelligent Operations Center for Smarter Cities, touted by the company as “a new solution designed to help cities of all sizes gain a holistic view of information across city departments and agencies.” Cleverly said that this entire endeavor falls under the company’s “Smarter Cities” initiative, which seeks to address the technology needs of entire municipalities. Although the solution is capable of gathering and analyzing on information about a wide variety of city systems and services such as municipal transportation, water and other utilities, building inspection, social services and whatnot, we largely limited the scope of our discussion to public safety.

Cleverly explained that IBM, which has been serving public safety organizations with technology infrastructure and services for many decades, has worked redouble their efforts in the law enforcement domain in the past three years or so. According to one company representative, IBM presently works with local governments in the United States such as Chicago, Memphis, and New York City to “extract meaning from crime data in ways never imagined before.” In Memphis, for example, there has reportedly been a “36.8 percent reduction in crime in one targeted area.”

“If there’s a single point of where it all comes together for us,” began Cleverly, “it’s in the area of how police agencies use data today and how they will use it in the future... We see a very clear direction in the world that we sometimes call the ‘three I’s, and that kind of underpins where we are today compared to five or ten years ago.”

Instrumentation, Interconnection, and Intelligence
Cleverly began by stating that there is an obvious increase in instrumentation in the world — cameras and a variety of other sensors (as well as the ubiquity of Smartphones in the hands of citizens) means a vastly greater number of automated data sources transmitting rich-data and other information to public safety. Furthermore, there is increasing interconnection — it’s easier to exchange information between individuals as well as between systems in part because of the Internet (social media, etc.) but also because of agreements on information standards and exchange mechanisms. Finally (and here’s where IBM comes in) there are increasingly intelligent technologies in use today than ever before. Increases in the abovementioned instrumentation and interconnection necessitates that the information is more effectively triaged, analyzed for actionable insights, and subsequently disseminated to the appropriate agencies and individuals in a useful timeframe.

For law enforcement, IBM has developed some data-based capabilities that are much more powerful than anything the company has previously offered—in fact perhaps more powerful than anything most police agencies have ever even dreamed of having.

“One of the classic examples of this is something we call the Crime Information Warehouse concept, which is in place at NYPD. It’s the foundation — or one of the foundations at least — of their Real-Time Crime Information Center,” Cleverly said.

In a sense, IBM’s Crime Information Warehouse (CIW) marries the concepts of crime analytics and predictive policing — two of the three areas the company focuses on with regard to supporting law enforcement computing (the third area is video, which we’ll get to in a moment). According to IBM, the CIW integrates information (according to federal and state standards) related to incidents, offenses, arrests, and calls for service, allowing law enforcement officials to make more timely and informed decisions about crime fighting and force deployments. In the NYPD example, this means the real-time (or near-real-time) coordination of information, allowing officers and analysts to detect crime patterns as they are forming, enabling precinct commanders to take proactive measures to stay ahead of these trends — and potentially prevent spikes in criminal activity.

Another example, already alluded to above, is the work IBM has done in Memphis. The Memphis Police Department (MPD) teamed up with IBM to improve crime-fighting techniques with IBM’s predictive analytics software and has reduced serious crime by more than 30 percent, including a 15 percent reduction in violent crimes since 2006. MPD is now able to evaluate incident patterns throughout the city and forecast criminal ‘hot spots’ to proactively allocate resources and deploy personnel, resulting in improved force effectiveness and increased public safety.

A/V Stands for Analyzing Video
“The other area we’re particularly interested in,” Cleverly continued, “is what I call unstructured information — particularly video-based information. The use of digital video around the world is growing, both in the private sector and the public sector. You get cities like London, for example, which is very highly populated with cameras for monitoring things like public transportation as well as general activity. The use of analytics on video — both for real-time operations so you can generate alerts based on certain events ... but also for use as a forensic tool. We can use video analytics to look back and reconstruct what has happened and see if there are conclusions to be drawn, and using automation in those processes is kind of interesting.”

IBM documentation explains that the company’s digital video monitoring offering enables end-users to “view, monitor and digitally record activity while archiving over an IP network allowing real-time access to critical security information. Digital video monitoring leverages existing technology investments to help reduce implementation costs, improve operational efficiency through better management of the video infrastructure and accelerates the transition from analog to digital technology. Central to IBM's digital video monitoring services is a first-of-a-kind security technology code-named the Smart Surveillance System (SSS). SSS provides the unique capability to carry out intelligent data analysis of video sequences either in real time or from recordings. Based on open standard middleware, the SSS platform allows for the monitoring and analysis of real-world events via multiple sensors, including video cameras, radars, chemical sensors, or audio inputs and is well suited to integrate technologies from multiple vendors.”

The company says the Smart Surveillance System provides three distinct advantages for police, including:

Real-time alarms to preempt incidents by identifying suspicious behaviors
Forensic capabilities enhanced by utilizing unique indexing and attribute-based search of video events to classify objects into categories such as people and cars
Situational awareness of the location, identity and activity of objects in a monitored space including license plate recognition and face capture

Watson, Come Here, I Need You!
Inevitably, the conversation came back around to Watson — truth be told, I forced the issue with a direct question to Cleverly about when this technology might be applied in the law enforcement arena.

“I’ve had some discussions with various people about how Watson might be used in various areas of government, one of which is law enforcement. In fact ... the intelligence community is interested in what Watson is doing. I’m not sure I can drill into it too deeply — partly because I’m not privy to too many of those discussions — but the theory is that you could apply what Watson does, which is basically deep analytics on a fairly diverse set of information sources, to take the first cut at analyzing open source intelligence.”

Taking Cleverly’s statement about possible interest from America’s intelligence community one step further, a Watson-like supercomputer can easily be used by state, local, and federal law enforcement entities to analyze ‘open source’ information such as social networking sites and other areas of the Internet where known offenders tend to share details of their wrongdoing.

At the very least, you could apply a Watson-like solution to triage non-emergency calls to the dispatch center — essentially creating an automated, intelligent, sorting mechanism based on a series of data points that are collectable, measurable, and understandable and taken in sum point to specific situations or scenarios.

“Let me make the caveat that this is all very early thinking — there’s nothing out there now that does that — but there’s enough capability in the Watson-like arena that you can see some of these things being possible,” Cleverly said.

It will be very, very interesting to see where this type of technology innovation leads us in the next decade, but it’s safe to assume that we’ll see even more strides made in coming years. Setting aside what may be coming, the capabilities of IBM’s present day offerings are pretty compelling. These real-time analytical solutions can harness the intelligence derived from sensors, crime data bases, cameras, and communications systems, enabling public safety organizations to reduce crime and protect our first responders. And that, folks, is a great first step into the future.

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