Coffee talk with Big Brother

A glimpse into “Intelligence Led Policing”.  There is a lot more to the discussion than what I have posted here-the part about using ALPR caught my attention.  If you are interested you can find the entire doc at




One Week in Heron City (Case A)
A Case Study
Malcolm K. Sparrow, Ph.D.

The Heron City case study is divided into three parts — Case A, Case B and Teaching Notes. The case study is
designed to serve as a basis for discussions regarding: (a) the relationships among a range of current policing
strategies, and (b) the nature of analytic support that modern operational policing requires.

Following are excerpts from a meeting between Chief Laura Harrison and Captain Josephine Smithers.

Captain Smithers runs a relatively new Intelligence-Led Policing Unit that consists of 10 criminal intelligence ana­lysts (some civilian and some sworn officers), that has also been given responsibility for the Heron City Police Department’s strategic planning process. The meeting takes place at the chief’s reserved table in the headquar­ters dining room, over coffee.

Captain Smithers :We keep an active list of flagged vehicles being driven by persons-of-interest. We call them “vehicles-of-interest” or VOIs. I believe our current list of active VOIs is more than 300. Once we’ve set them up in the ALPR system, we get automatic printouts every morning of all the ALPR sightings in the previous 24 hours. It’s a pretty big report.

Chief Harrison: What do you do with it?

Captain Smithers: Nothing, normally, unless there’s heightened interest in a particular player. Then, we begin to actually map their movements from the reports, and if their travel patterns seem

to line up with any particular crime patterns, then we might bump them up to active surveillance.

Captain Smithers: Actually, we did do that. Phil Goring had one of his guys pull a data dump from the ALPR system, and we contracted with a local data-mining company to run some tests on it. The job cost us over $10,000 and didn’t actually show anything terribly useful.

Chief Harrison: Where’s the problem? In the cameras? The software? Lighting?

Phil Goring: Mostly, it’s in the software, we think — the image enhancement and the optical character reading.

Phil Goring. So the system logs all the cases where a plate has been read, but the number it thinks it read doesn’t have a match in the registry files; in that case, we assume the photo interpretation is wrong. Nigel pulls up the original picture on the screen, reads the license plate number if he can, and compares it with what the machine said it was. There are a lot of cases where Nigel can read the number quite easily but the machine got it wrong.

Chief Harrison: But can you do other types of analyses is on the data? Can you search for odd patterns?

Phil Goring: Like what? Sudden drops in volumes? Traffic jams? That kind of thing? What did you have in mind?

Chief Harrison: I didn’t really have anything particular in mind. It just seems odd to have all this data and not really do anything much with it.

Seems to me that even if it didn’t show anything useful in the end, it was still a good thing to try.

Phil Goring: We had to deal with some others who didn’t think that. Getting permission from the city’s general counsel for the contract was a real pain. Their office was all worried about the idea of police doing anything that smacked of data-mining, especially on ordinary citizens’ travel patterns, with almost none of them being suspects for anything in particular, and they were all just going about their ordinary daily business. The GC said they saw civil liberties issues all over it, and ACLU lawsuits, and they were really nervous. In the end, it was the mayor who told them to shut up and approve it, and told us all not to talk about it in public.


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