IBM Fights Crime in Canada

A search tool for law enforcement under development in Eastern Canada could have broader implications for enterprise usage

Mary Jander, Contributor

September 6, 2006

4 Min Read

When it comes to data classification and search, IBM has adopted a "grow your own" stance via Java-based development tools called the Unstructured Information Management Architecture (UIMA). But a project in the Cape Breton region of Nova Scotia could yield something more generally useable.

IBM is working with a local company called ADM Solutions (no Website), Cape Breton University, and the Cape Breton Regional Police Services, all of Sydney, Nova Scotia, to create a system that stores, classifies, and searches police crime data.

Though still in the pilot stage, the system, which will be the first of its kind in Canada, was demonstrated at the Canadian Chief of Police Conference in St. John's, Newfoundland, late last month, and apparently caused a stir, with a range of police departments considering engaging IBM to mimic the system for them. IBM spokesman Steven Tomasco says the results of the project, once they are analyzed later this year, could wind up in a commercialized package.

"At this point, it really looks excellent, even though there are still areas to be completed," says Myles Burke, a Cape Breton police inspector.

Like many outfits, Cape Breton's police force has done most of its data classification, analysis, and searching manually. And while lots of products are available to help classify unstructured data, such as those from Abrevity, Arkivio, Kazeon, Index Engines, Njini, Scentric, and StoredIQ, organizations like this police force just aren't equipped to evaluate and implement them. What's more, bigger players like IBM and EMC are eyeing the potential for products tailored to specific vertical applications. (See De-Classifying Data Classification.)

Enter IBM's UIMA software, the basis for the Cape Breton prototype. UIMA consists of a Java framework delivered in a free software development kit, along with a suite of not-for-free products called IBM's WebSphere Information Integrator OmniFind Edition. All of the UIMA wares are aimed at developers of intranet, extranet, and other Web applications.

In the case of the Cape Breton police, the UIMA software, implemented by university personnel, members of IBM Research, and ADM, formats and analyzes digitized surveillance videos, audiotapes of interviews and interrogations, voice clips, images of vehicle licenses and police reports, and the like. The goal is to feed in police data and produce information that solves a crime -- or at least helps unravel it.

"The program provides detectives with timelines, linkage analysis, and disclosures," says Burke. As data from tapes, videos, and even voice messages enters the system, it will acquire date and time stamps and be parsed so that further analysis can tie information to specific individuals and situations. Data items also will be annotated with the date when each was shown to prosecutors, enabling vastly improved police record keeping.

To make sure the system works as it should, the Cape Breton police have entered all the information related to a double homicide that occured in Cape Breton and was solved by local detectives. So far, Burke says, the UIMA wares are tying things together just as the RCMP did themselves.

The Cape Breton project is being paid for by Cape Breton University, but it is being conducted as part of IBM's "First of a Kind" program. This is an IBM Research initiative in which IBM develops applications for specific organizations, which in turn get a sizeable cut on what they would otherwise pay.

The idea for this project evolved from discussions between customers at Cape Breton University, and Allen McCormick, ADM's president and a local technology advocate, whose company outsources transcription services based on IBM technology. Two years ago, for example, ADM helped implement IBM's ViaScribe speech-to-text technology to give guides at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck, N.S., a way to show their lectures to hearing-disabled tourists. ViaScribe also will be used in the police project.

Right now, the Cape Breton project is basically a promise. The system resides on a laptop at the university, even though it clearly will require heftier hardware as it moves into the real life of the police force, which is expected to happen imminently, according to Burke.

Despite its status as a prototype, though, the Cape Breton police system could wind up surprising everyone. If it works out, it might be a precursor for similar systems nationwide in Canada, while serving as a proof point for IBM's strategy.

— Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

About the Author(s)

Mary Jander


Mary Jander is managing editor of UBM's Future Cities. Previously, she was executive editor of Internet Evolution, site editor of Byte and Switch, and a longtime senior editor of Light Reading. She has spent over 27 years reporting and writing on information technology and networking, including nine years on the senior editorial team of Data Communications magazine.

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