New York police will be able to search for criminal suspects with cameras and license-plate readers through a new system developed in partnership with Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), the city said.
The New York Police Department worked with Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft, the world’s biggest software maker, to develop the Domain Awareness System, which aggregates and analyzes information from cameras, license-plate readers, sensors and law enforcement databases, according to a statement today from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office.
“The system is a transformative tool because it was created by police officers for police officers,” NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in the statement.
The system was unveiled by Bloomberg and Kelly at the headquarters of the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative a few blocks south of Wall Street, where personnel from the NYPD and its partners examine feeds from surveillance cameras, alerts from license-plate readers and reports from 911 calls.
There are about 3,000 closed-circuit television cameras connected to the Domain Awareness System, most of which are located in lower and midtown Manhattan, along with 2,600 radiation detectors carried by officers on patrol and several hundred license-plate readers mounted on police cars and deployed at bridges, tunnels and streets, Bloomberg said.
The system allows investigators to instantly see information including arrest records, 911 calls associated with a suspect and related crimes occurring in a particular area, according to the statement. It also allows investigators to map crimes to reveal patterns and track where a car associated with a suspect is located and has been in the past.
It also helps in counterterrorism efforts, such as allowing the NYPD to examine video feeds to determine who left a suspicious package at a location or help assess whether a radiation detector was set off naturally, by a weapon or by a harmless isotope used in medical treatments.
Under the agreement, the city will receive 30 percent of gross revenue on future sales of the system, which cost about $30 million to $40 million to develop, said Jessica Tisch, director of policy and planning for the NYPD’s counterterrorism bureau.
“We realized we had the opportunity to create a powerful and coordinated domain awareness system to help us combat both terrorism and conventional crime,” Kelly said at a press conference. “Not just dealing with the matters in financial system, but citywide by coordinating our alert systems with vast amounts of data. The system allows us to connect the dots by instantly tapping into the details of crime records, 911 calls, license plate readers, videotape footage and more.”
Bloomberg said that selling the system to other cities may allow New York to “recoup all of our expenses over a period of time and maybe even make a few bucks.”
Tisch showed how the system worked to alert officers to a 911 report of a suspicious package -- a box with Jack Daniel’s whiskey markings found outside a Union Square theater a few days ago -- and allow them to call up cameras within 500 feet to determine when the package was left and by whom. The package turned out to be trash that had blown away from another location.
“The idea is to get the information out into the field as quickly as possible,” Tisch said.
Privacy advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which has asked police departments and agencies in 38 states to provide information on how they use license-plate readers, said the system may give the police information on innocent New Yorkers.
“We fully support the police using technology to combat crime and terrorism, but law-abiding New Yorkers should not end up in a police database every time they walk their dog, go to the doctor or drive around Manhattan,” Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.
The mayor pointed out that the private sector has used similar technology for a long time, and that many buildings already have security cameras posted inside and at entrances and exits. He also said facial recognition isn’t being used in New York’s system.
“The bad guys have everything that we do too and if you really want to worry about security and freedoms, that’s the first thing,” Bloomberg said. “There’s a lot of evidence that there are a lot of bad guys around the world that are devoting a lot more resources than we are to taking away our freedoms.”
The mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.