Criminals are target of ORNL advanced communications system

February 24, 2005

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Feb. 24, 2005 -- Residents of small communities could be served and protected better because of a communications system being proposed by researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The system would help rural law enforcement agencies quickly gather and share information about criminals and criminal activity. The system, proposed for development by a team led by Tommy Nelson of ORNL's Computational Sciences and Engineering Division, addresses a major need shared by small communities nationwide.

"Surprisingly, many rural police departments still operate on paper-based systems," Nelson said. "This presents a huge obstacle to information sharing and is terribly inefficient. Our system provides an affordable case management system that lets law enforcement officers share information about criminals and criminal activity across secure Internet connections."

The system would incorporate a number of ORNL technologies, some of which were originally developed for NASA to gather and distribute scientific data around the world. The NASA system provides a state-of-the-art data management scheme that uses the Internet and emerging information technologies.

"The data management system developed for NASA is one of the most flexible, cost-effective distributed management tools in the world," Nelson said. "For a relatively small investment, we can adapt the system for use by law enforcement and homeland security officials."

Tennessee police chiefs endorsed the system earlier this month at a meeting of the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police.

"This system provides a cost-effective way for rural law enforcement to obtain information technology usually available only to larger municipalities having greater financial resources and dedicated information technologies staff," said Harriman Police Chief Jack Stockton.

ORNL proposes to integrate the data management capabilities developed for NASA with intelligent software agent technology to be used by law enforcement agencies to quickly identify, retrieve, cluster and visualize the most important information on criminals and criminal activity. Intelligent agents greatly increase the effectiveness of the system.

"An intelligent agent is a software program that can mimic human behavior, meaning it can communicate with one or more agents and sort through vast amounts of information," said co-developer Tom Potok, who heads ORNL's Applied Software Engineering Research group.

Potok and Nelson are proposing development of the data system and initial testing to support rural and state law enforcement efforts in Tennessee. If the test is deemed a success, other states could adopt the system.

"Tennessee offers an excellent test bed of large and small police departments supporting 15 municipalities with populations greater than 25,000 and some 400 municipalities with populations of less than 25,000," Nelson said. "This is representative of most states across the nation."

Nelson also noted that most counties in the United States have several towns, each with populations of less than 25,000, and each with independent police departments. Those departments typically have between 20 and 25 officers, so they are small enough to be equipped inexpensively yet provide a network that could benefit the nation.

"Ultimately, local law enforcement agencies are the eyes and ears of homeland security," Nelson said. "The ability to aggregate detailed information on criminals and criminal activity at a regional level should prove extremely valuable to homeland security efforts."
Oak Ridge National Laboratory is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy.

NOTE TO EDITORS: You may read other press releases from Oak Ridge National Laboratory or learn more about the lab at

DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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