As a member of NCPC’s illustrious web team, I do my best to keep my fingers on the pulse of web trends and development. Probably the biggest trend during the past few years has been the opening up of data on the web — more and more companies and organizations have worked to make their data more searchable and accessible to outsiders. According to a recent article by Mary Beth Sheridan in the Washington Post, law enforcement agencies are doing something similar, with help from the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Navy, through a system called Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX).
The system gives regional law enforcement agencies seamless data-sharing. Sheridan explains that the system “functions like Google for police, except that the database contains law enforcement information.” This is a major change from the way things have functioned in the past, where police departments could call one another to ask for information, but had no direct access to each other’s data bases. Now, however, with the help of LInX, officers can review “6 million police mug shots and 14 million crime reports” from police departments across the country.
I am glad to hear the police departments are going to be able to benefit from the revolution in data sharing that public companies have enjoyed for the past few years. Although this system does not directly help prevent crime, it certainly should make it riskier to be a criminal— it’s much harder for criminals to hide when all of the police in a region have access to the data they need to do their jobs. Additionally, the tool could certainly have uses in prevention; if parts of the system were opened up to the public so that neighborhoods could easily search for data about local crime, their prevention activities and watch groups could be better informed and their prevention efforts better targeted. The Washington Post offers tools on its website that can provide this data in the Washington, DC area, but the availability of data elsewhere may be limited to a thick hard copy file. From what I’ve seen, easily available data can lead to previously unimaginable innovations.