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Memex Handles Police Intel

Written by James Careless

Informants, anonymous tips, and useful calls from watchful citizens. All of these belong to that critical element of law enforcement investigation called police intelligence, i.e., intel. Unfortunately, even the best intel is of little use if it can’t be shared and analyzed with other police officers and agencies capable of adding pieces to the puzzle. In the same vein, intel doesn’t make any difference if the information-collecting officers can’t find it when a case goes to court or years later when they’re comparing a current crime to a past occurrence.

To remedy this problem, Memex has developed a series of intelligence gathering software tools that work together to create a seamless, easy-to-access, yet secure intelligence database. Moreover, the Memex system—Memex for short—is designed so that a single query can be compared against the database’s contents, to look for patterns within the data.

For instance, a collection of disparate tips on a certain person might reveal that he is consistently checking potential targets for terrorist attack or that the flow of people and cars to a certain location indicates the likelihood of drugs being sold there.

“Although agencies have been collecting intelligence for over 35 years, the ability to disseminate information on who told you what and when was virtually nonexistent, except for paper-based systems,” said retired New Jersey State Police Captain Steve Serrao, who is now Memex’s director of intelligence solutions. “The Memex product jumps that hurdle by providing a robust security module that not only puts the information into a secure database, but invites input and analysis from other law enforcement agencies.”

But does Memex really work? Well, this intelligence software is currently being used by the CIA, DIA, FBI, and New Scotland Yard, among others. So the answer to this question appears to be “yes.”

How Memex Works

Based on the Windows operating platform, Memex is designed to be available to all PC-using officers on the force, whether back at the precinct or in their laptop-equipped patrol cars. Onscreen, the format is quite familiar; especially when it comes to basic elements such as the incident-reporting page.

In the example above, the reporting officer has entered the location, date, and time that the intel was logged into the local Memex system. In the Narrative Information window, he has transcribed the meaty data: Joe Smith of 123 Main Street has seen a lot of coming and goings from her neighbor’s house at 665 Main Street “at all hours of the night.”

She has also observed someone carrying a suspicious-looking canister into the house and heard that the children who live there have been making anti-government statements at school. Helpfully, Smith has written down the license numbers of cars at the house, which the officer has used to identify the cars’ owners’ and their addresses.

Now that this data has been entered into Memex, separate files can be created on each of the people identified in the report, plus their residences and vehicles. Moreover, the system can be configured to automatically compare these new files against its existing database and make inquiries about them from other police databases, Memex-based or not.

The system also allows the reporting officer to set an importance level to the data, alert other Memex users of its existence, and even task them to follow up specific elements of it. They can even send the data to officers in the field, as long as they have password-access to the Memex database from their mobile computers or PDAs.

“Memex tracks who was allowed access and under what rules, plus who actually accessed the data and what they viewed,” says Serrao, a 25-year veteran who deployed a 40,000-user intelligence system for the New Jersey State Police. “The system can also be configured to alert the originating officer anytime someone views his intel. This allows him to open up a line of communication with the inquirer so that they can exchange information in real time. As well, Memex allows the originating officer to specify which information is off limits, to prevent security breaches and protect their sources.”

Managing Memex’s Data

Remember how we said the best intel is of little use if it can’t be shared? Well, the same is true if the intel can’t be easily accessed, cross-referenced, and analyzed. This is why Memex has been designed to file intelligence information in a uniform, logical, and easy-to-compare fashion. Also, the files generated by Memex are designed to automatically meet key criteria so that the information within is properly recorded and verifiable.

For instance, every time a new file is opened, Memex requires the user to rank the reliability of his intel source. Was it a gang leader’s right-hand man or a disgruntled girlfriend? Was it a petty criminal willing to say anything to win points with the cops or someone inside the organization with the position and opportunity to know what they’re talking about?

Once an intel file has been created, Memex’s Intelligence Report Wizard automatically suggests what kind of additional files the reporting officer may wish to create. For instance, having recorded the cars seen going to and from 665 Main Street, the reporting officer may want to create separate files for each of these license tags, then send them out to jurisdictions nationwide to see if they’ve triggered police attention elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Memex’s Link Management tool records how certain tips are linked to each other, how strong the links are, and what actions have been taken to date in investigating them. In the case of the 123 Main Street example, the links between Joe Smith’s report and that provided by citizen Tony Jones can be qualified and mapped graphically, as indicated below.

Having the intel mapped out makes it easy to grasp “the big picture.” Not only are the relationships between data shown, but the actions that are being taken to follow them up are immediately apparent.

Memex also allows users to create maps showing where tips were generated or to where they pertain. In addition, links between individuals and various information sources can be shown graphically, not only indicating which suspects were mentioned by various informants, but illustrating who is being mentioned by each informant, as well.

Add in Memex’s ability to automatically alert other users when new data is posted and to keep an eye on who is viewing what, and the result is a sophisticated, flexible, and powerful intel collection/evaluation tool.

Worth A Look?

At first blush, the idea of a software database serving as an intelligence “supercomputer” is a bit hard to believe. However, this is exactly how Memex system is designed to operate and why it is being adopted by major police and intelligence gathering agencies around the world.

Most recently, the LAPD’s Counter Terrorism and Criminal Intelligence Bureau selected Memex to provide a citywide intel collection/analysis database for every officer on the force. In particular, the LAPD will use Memex to manage intel on street gangs, organized crime, and terrorists.

LAPD spokesperson Lieutenant Bob Fox said in a Memex news release, “Our greatest fear in the battle against terrorism is missing a small piece of information out of the thousands in our possession that could have led us to the prevention of a terrorist attack in the Los Angeles region, nation, and other countries. The Memex software solution is an excellent tool to help us more clearly track and connect those dots.”

Sometimes turning seemingly-unconnected tips into a coherent intelligence picture is a matter of “connecting the dots.” For tasks such as these, Memex can be an intelligence officer’s best friend in a profession where friends are hard to find.

James Careless is a freelance writer who specializes in first responder communications issues. He can be reached at jcareless5000@yahoo.com.

Published in Law and Order, Aug 2006

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