Software for Complex Case Management

By Dees, Tim | Law & Order, November 2003 | Go to article overview

Software for Complex Case Management


Dees, Tim, Law & Order


If only detective work were more like the movies and TV. Guys like Columbo and the team of Briscoe and Green have to work only one case at a time, seem to be able to bring suspects and witnesses "down to the station for a chat" whenever the muse hits them absent a warrant or probable cause for an arrest, and are always able to connect with investigators from other precincts and agencies at the instant they call. They are also able to manage all of the information generated in a case with the aid of nothing more sophisticated than their Mark I memo book and a pen, and, most of the time, make an arrest before the third commercial.

In practice, the management of all of the information in a criminal case is often more than one human can handle, and the humans tasked with handling these cases usually have a whole stack of them to deal with at one time. This process is further complicated when the cases span more than one jurisdiction, because law enforcement agencies have a nasty habit of not talking to one another. The opportunistic crook who wants to caper and go uncaught need only spread his business over several jurisdictions, and much of the time, any pattern of behavior will go unnoticed.

This is where case management software comes in handy. Case managers such as that from Xanalys and IRP Solutions use the power of the computer to compare every item in an investigative database with every other on an ongoing basis. The algorithms developed by the programmers who write the software tend to mimic the "catches" that humans would get, but that computers would otherwise miss.

For instance, say that the address "121 Oak St." appears in one investigative file, but due to a typo, gets recorded as "121 Oka St." in another. A human investigator would probably key on the similarity (people are still a lot better at pattern recognition than machines) and look further if he was to see this, but a computer doing a search for one or the other would miss it, as computer searches generally return only exact matches to the search criteria.

Names are another area where the capabilities of case management software will show connections where they weren't previously apparent. A man named "John Smith" might also go by "Jon," "Johnny," "Johnnie," "Jack," "Smitty," or some other diminutive of his Christian or surname. Investigative software equipped with the most common variations of names can present possible matches to the investigator, and then be told that the match is valid; is invalid in this instance, but that future matches should be presented also; or that the match is invalid and that future similar matches should be ignored.

These capabilities become all that more valuable as the scope of a case expands and the number of data items in it increases. Modern cases produce all sorts of minutiae, such as phone numbers, addresses, social security and drivers license numbers, employer names, associate names, car license plate numbers, times and dates, and so on. Each person added to the list of persons of interest in a case brings with him a whole set of new data items, each of which needs to be compared against the existing ones for relationships and similarities. Case management software does this continuously, and shows relationships that would probably go unnoticed otherwise. …

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