Magazine article Newsweek

Crime: A Google for Cops

Magazine article Newsweek

Crime: A Google for Cops

Article excerpt

Byline: Seth Mnookin

As any crime fighter worth his tights will tell you, it takes a nerd to beat the bad guys. Spider-Man wouldn't even be spinning webs if it weren't for that science-loving Peter Parker. So it is in real life that a geeked-out computer-science professor just might revolutionize law enforcement in the 21st century. Working at the Artificial Intelligence Lab he founded at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Hsinchun Chen is the inventor of a high-tech crimefighting tool with a name straight out of the comic books: Coplink.

Dubbed by its creator as "Google for law enforcement," Coplink is really nothing more glamorous than computer code. It's based on an achingly simple, but frustratingly elusive, premise: if the sundry databases used by crimefighters could talk to one another, the importance of seemingly inconsequential pieces of information would become more readily apparent.

Had Coplink been up and running during last fall's sniper investigation, it would have quickly flagged investigators to the multiple times that police had stopped John Muhammad and Lee Malvo near a shooting scene, say law-enforcement officials. The system is now being used to help build the federal and state cases against them.

Chen has been touting Coplink since he developed it with the Tucson Police Department in 1998. But it's been only in the last two years that it's caught on. The CIA and the National Science Foundation are now looking at ways to use the software, and police departments in a half-dozen states either have it already or have signed up. …

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