Cross-checking criminal and terrorist databases, taking radiation levels and scanning license plates within a short time are no longer just in the realm of science fiction.It's now part of a somewhat ominously-named electronic policing system installed in New York City, which its creators plan to sell for profit.
The street smarts of the New York Police Department coupled with the tech savvy of Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) are behind the creation of the Domain Awareness System, a powerful counterterrorism and policing tool the NYPD hopes will revolutionize the city's public safety and intelligence operations.
With the system launched Wednesday at the Lower Manhattan Security Command Center, New York's police are now able to up their crime fighting game -- monitoring the more than 2,000 cameras with secured feeds to software that check police system records. The men and women in blue are now able to scan license plates and determine the level of radiation being given off by suspicious objects.
More than 100 license plate readers are already in place at the city's bridges, tunnels and streets. Several dozen mobile license plate readers are now part of police cars so that suspects' cars can be tracked in real time.
The aim of it all: Get useful information out into the field as quickly as possible to guide officers and help inform police action.
"We are finding new ways to leverage already existing cameras, crime data and other tools to support the work of our investigators, making it easier for them to determine if a crime is a part of a an ongoing pattern," NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "It will allow the NYPD to better deploy its officers. ... It makes it a potentially valuable tool that we can expand to precincts in boroughs across the city."
A Potential Money-Making Tool
Besides its surveillance capabilities, Bloomberg said the Domain Awareness System is an investment. He is already looking to see where else the system can be used in city government. Through an agreement with Microsoft to market the system to other cities across the country and worldwide, NYC will get 30 percent of all revenues from sale of the Domain Awareness System.
"We think we can recoup all of our expense over a period of time and maybe even make a few bucks," Bloomberg said.
He later added: "We're not your mom-and-pop's Police Department anymore. We are in the next century. We are leading the pack. That's exactly what you expect us to do."
Commissioner Ray Kelly said besides combating terrorism, the system proves useful for conventional crime.
"The system allows us to connect the dots by instantly tapping into the details of crime records, 911 calls, license plate readers, videotape footage and more," he said. "What makes this tool even more useful is that all the information is presented visually in geographic and chronological context. This allows investigators, analysts and operational personnel to generate and refine leads, to identify patterns and to optimally deploy manpower. ... It is a tool that meets the needs of the department and one that will protect New Yorkers and keep us safe from crime and terrorism in the years to come."
Microsoft's Vice President of Americas Services, retired Lt. Gen.Mike McDuffie, said the company is deeply committed to the initiative.
Here are a few examples of how the Domain Awareness System will help the police solve crime:
- It gives investigators immediate access to information through live video feeds, while also allowing them to instantly see a suspect's arrest records, 911 calls associated with an event, and related crimes taking place in an area;
- It allows for the mapping of criminal history to geospatially and chronologically reveal crime patterns;
- Cars associated with a suspect can be tracked for its current location as well as where it has been in the past, weeks or months;
- Police commanders can query databases to map, review and correlate crime information with the deployment of resources;
- Police can tap into the video feeds of suspicious packages left at a certain locations. The NYPD will be able to quickly look back in time and see who left it there; and
- Should radiation detectors out in the field set off alarms and alert the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative command center, the new system will help quickly identify whether the radioactive material is naturally occurring, a weapon, or a isotope used in medical treatments.
Laura is a U.S. politics reporter for the International Business Times. She was always fascinated by the BBC World News each morning on the radio in Jamaica. That, and a love...