NYPD, Microsoft Launch Domain Awareness System

New York City, working in close partnership with Microsoft Corp., on Aug. 8 announced the full deployment of a new system designed to aggregate and analyze public safety data in real-time, and provide law enforcement officers with a comprehensive view of emerging terrorist threats and criminal activity.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, flanked by New York Police Department (NYPD) Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, said the so-called Domain Awareness System will feed real-time data from the city’s existing infrastructure of security cameras, radiation detectors, license plate readers, and 911 calls onto a dashboard of large screen displays located at the Lower Manhattan Security command center.

A Video Demonstration of the Domain Awareness System follows the press conference in the video at right.

The system was developed jointly by Microsoft and members of the NYPD. Microsoft handled what Bloomberg referred to as the “the technical and engineering muscle” — the coding and system architecture — and the NYPD set out the system requirements, which were developed through an exhaustive series of focus groups with patrol officers and members of the 1,000-strong counterterrorism division.  Microsoft has agreed to pay the city 30 percent of its gross revenues on the sale of the system to other customers worldwide.

“This new system capitalizes on new, powerful policing software that allows police officers and other personnel to more quickly access relevant information gathered from existing technology and help them respond even more effectively,” said Bloomberg. The mayor also said the revenue sharing agreement with Microsoft will likely enable the city to recoup the expense of developing and purchasing the system “and maybe even make a few bucks.”

LT Gen. Mike McDuffie (USA-Ret.), vice president of Microsoft’s Americas Services, said his company would be marketing the new capability not only to other law enforcement and homeland security agencies in the U.S., but to U.S. allies as well.

New York City has approximately 3,000 Closed-Circuit TV cameras connected to the Domain Awareness System. The majority of these cameras are in Lower Manhattan – south of Canal Street, from river to river – and in Midtown Manhattan – between 30th street and 60th street, from river to river. Each camera is programmed to send an automatic alarm if it records a suspicious package. The NYPD has also begun to expand camera coverage throughout the boroughs outside of Manhattan.

Likewise, the city has deployed more than 2,600 radiation detectors around bridges and tunnels, as well as on police cars, the roofs of precinct buildings and even on police officers’ belts.

NYPD’s Tech Evolution

Kelly said when he returned to the police department in 2002, the NYPD was still a heavy user of white-out and carbon paper. “In other words, the technical revolution had to a certain extent bypassed the department,” said Kelly. In the decade since then, that’s all changed, he said.

By 2005, the NYPD had deployed the Real-Time Crime Center, which helps detectives quickly tap into the department’s existing databases of crime information. In 2008, the department launched the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative (LMSI), housed in a state-of-the-art command center, as well as the Midtown Manhattan Security Initiative (MMSI). “We envisioned for LMSI , a system of cameras, license plate readers, and radiation detectors that could alert us in time to defeat or minimize another attack,” said Kelly. “As the promise of both the Real-Time Crime Center and LMSI materialized, we realized we had the opportunity to create a powerful and coordinated domain awareness system to help us combat both terrorism and conventional crime.”

Jessica Tisch, director of policy and planning in the NYPD Counterterrorism Division, provided a live demonstration of the Domain Awareness System, during which she walked reporters through the three main focus areas of the system: real-time alerting, investigative support and crime analysis.

Tisch showed how real-time alerts from sensors or 911 calls pop up on the large-screen dashboard and are immediately plotted on a map of the city. That information can then be relayed to officers on the street, while additional information from video cameras, suspicious activity reports and license plate readers can be cross-checked in real-time.

“The system allows us to connect the dots,” said NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly. “All of the information is presented visually in geographic and chronological context.  This allows investigators, analysts and operational personnel to generate and refine leads, to identify patters and to optimally deploy manpower,” said Kelly.

“We can track where a car associated with a murder suspect is currently located, and where it’s been over the past several days, weeks or months,” added Kelly. “If a suspicious package is left in front of a location, we can look back in time and see who left it there.”

Kelly also said that the city’s radiation detectors are fined tuned enough to tell the difference between a weapon and a person who had just undergone medical treatment involving radiation.

According to Tisch, Microsoft engineers worked directly with police officers and members of the counterterrorism division to develop the system, resulting in a system that is “perfectly tailored” to meet the needs of the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies around the country. “It is the ultimate in domain awareness,” she said.

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