Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Look Inside Chicago's Fusion Center

Not exactly hard-hitting journalism here, but Government Technology runs a complimentary piece, examining the capabilities of Chicago's fusion center, the Crime Prevention Information Center (CPIC).

Unlike many other fusion centers, Chicago's center eschews the all-hazards approach and focuses only on violent crime and terrorism. There's some collaboration with suburban police departments in the collar counties:

Approximately 30 full-time staff members - detectives, police officers and supervisors - work at CPIC. As events warrant, each of the 35 suburban departments that work with the center lends officers to help field calls for information. In addition, representatives from the Cook County, Ill., Sheriff's Chief and other federal agencies also provide liaison personnel to the center as needed.
Not surprisingly in a world awash in information, the CPIC's primary value is in filtering information that's already available and giving it to police officers when they need it:
Chicago Police Commander David Sobczyk adds that much of the intelligence needed to combat terrorism - perhaps more than 90 percent - is really open-source information. It's putting the right pieces together in a timely fashion that makes the difference.

Much of the information flowing through CPIC, such as access to local and national crime databases, is something a tech-savvy police officer can access without the fusion center. But previously it would have taken multiple searches and a deliberate effort to search each source. CPIC has automated the process, for what databases are searched, and it adds some artificial intelligence to determine information that might be relevant.

Prior to CPIC, officers would arrive at an incident scene with virtually no other information than what was given in a call. They would then return to the police station, often the next day, to gather other information on file that might be relevant. Now through CPIC, as soon as police officers are dispatched to a home or street intersection, they immediately have relevant information at their fingertips about the location - who called the police from there in the last few days, recent arrests in the area, other reported incidents and even traffic tickets given recently on the block.
The CPIC says it's sharing information with state and federal officials:
Sobczyk also points out that the CPIC operation isn't simply drawing in the information needed to facilitate investigations or to respond better to public safety threats; CPIC also sends out information to both federal and state agencies. "It's a two-way flow," he said.
I wish there were more information about this, because other studies of fusion centers have suggested that there isn't enough two-way information sharing.

Appropriately, the system is set up to examine incidents rather than personal profiles. As I've argued before, you can't detect a terrorist based on who they are. The "terrorist profile" - that is, a young disaffected person who's looking for something to provide meaning and purpose in their life - is far too broad to be useful. You have a better chance if you examine what they do - especially other criminal activity:
[T]he entire CPIC system is incident-based. It takes an incident of some kind to launch a query or investigation. In other words, there must be justifiable cause to initiate the investigation.
Not only does this help avoid potential civil-rights problems, it's also likely to be more effective as a preventive measure.

No comments: