NYPD fights crime with data warehouse

October 17, 2007

4 Min Read
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DALLAS -- Storage Networking World -- The fight against crime, terrorism, and a range of threats to the safety of over 8 million people are driving a major storage overhaul at the New York Police Department (NYPD), according to its CIO James Onalfo. And while details are scant, it's clear the move is a big one.

"The NYPD is a huge, huge organization," he said during a keynote here today. "It's a global corporation that just happens to be in a city."

Onalfo, who was formerly international CIO of Kraft, now oversees a storage infrastructure supporting 11.5 million 911 calls a year and 1.8 million arrests.

"The ROI I have at the NYPD is the safety of the police officers and the safety of the people of New York," he said, adding that he is responsible for providing accurate data and services to more than 35,000 officers and a further 18,000 civilians working for the NYPD.

Whereas other CIOs worry about servicing internal business units, Onalfo's life is governed by a completely different set of rules. Top executives get all the police blotter information emailed to their BlackBerries twenty-four hours a day. And information must be continuously available to working officers in order to nab suspects."We have a twenty-four hour built-in SLA by law, which says that we have to release someone [if they are not charged] within twenty-four hours."

Getting it all done calls for a data warehousing approach, in which massive stores of information are coordinated with customized applications. The project began when Onalfo took over as CIO in 2003. "We took all the old databases, all the old green-screen systems, and we created this large DB2-based database," he said, explaining that this is now a major IBM mainframe-based data warehouse devoted to police investigations.

"There's 15 databases on it now and we're probably going to add another 15," he told Byte and Switch, adding that the system deploys more than 2 Tbytes of storage (vendors unspecified), a figure that will soon quadruple as the pool of data grows. "We started with four years of data, now we're up to 15 years, soon we will be up to twenty-five."

This data is mined using custom-built software tools. The NYPD also put Cisco routers into its stations to create "hot spots" where new crime data and images could be automatically updated on officers' patrol-car laptops.

"We have things like numeric and text data mining tools," said the CIO, explaining that officers can quickly trawl the warehouse for different crime criteria. "Every crime has an M.O. and a pattern -- that was all in books and sheets around the city's [police precincts] -- now it is all automated."Another big challenge for Onalfo when he joined the department was setting up a disaster recovery strategy. "There was no place I could go to if we were out of business," he said, highlighting a general "lack of understanding" about DR within the NYPD at that time.

Such was Onalfo's concern about disaster recovery that he quit over the issue his first day in the job but then got support to build a backup facility for the NYPD's largely mainframe-oriented infrastructure. "It took 18 months to get that fixed," he said. As with storage, he didn't reveal specific details of the department's DR solution.

Future technology initiatives for the NYPD include a new data warehouse tool called Pawn Broker, which will be used to trace stolen goods, satellite phone deployments, and a GPS-driven automatic vehicle locator for squad cars.

The exec, who admits he is "fascinated" by the process of buying technology, also talked about some of the department's technology snafus. When his group put laptops into patrol cars two years ago, he says, "They didnt give us the modems -- in the process of procurement, some [city] clerk didn't think that they were important."

The CIO also bemoaned the lack of interoperability with other city services in New York. "The Metropolitan Transportation Authority bought different radios -- logically they should have bought the same technology," he said, adding that middleware will be used to solve this problem.At the start of his keynote, Onalfo also highlighted some of the cultural differences involved in working with tough New York City police officers. He recalled his first meeting with IT's gun-toting constituency.

"I said 'Put those safeties on -- we're going to have a lot of disagreements, and I don't want you to pull them out on me.' "Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Byte and Switch's editors directly, send us a message.

  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)

  • IBM Corp.

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