If there’s one thing a police officer or state trooper needs for self-protection and to do the job, it is information that is accurate and quickly available in the field.
Consider: An officer on patrol stops a vehicle at 4 a.m. on a quiet road. Knowing as much as is possible about the vehicle and its likely operator is crucial, especially if the driver is known to be a potential threat to law enforcement. That information may be “out there,” but unless it’s available to that officer at that moment, it’s not very helpful. Indeed, a lack of information could add to the danger.
This is where CODY Computer Services Inc., a small business in Pottsville, Pa. (not to be confused with the better-known Pottstown), comes into the picture. The 34-year-old family-owned company markets a system called C.O.B.R.A., which stands for “Center-Point Based Regional Access,” designed to integrate data while preserving the integrity of the systems from which that information comes.
David N. Heffner, a vice president of the firm, said the system is “sharing between 55 and 65 million records [of] people, places and police activity.” That information is available in seconds, wirelessly and securely, in a form the officer can use “at the tip of the spear” on a cruiser-mounted computer or a handheld device, he said.
What makes C.O.B.R.A. different, Mr. Heffner said, is that it can pull information from different “silos,” to use the in-vogue term for disparate systems, while maintaining the integrity of those systems. This is, after all, highly sensitive information, and this data mining shouldn’t compromise the systems. The other plus, it can take information entered even a few minutes earlier and deliver it on the spot to an officer in the field. That speed could help prevent a crime - or catch a criminal.
The challenge, Mr. Heffner noted, is taking sometimes radically different streams of information and pulling them together.
In the past three decades, he said, there has been an “explosion of records-management system providers, and a proliferation of different database providers, [and] schemas - the challenge that evolved is getting all of these disparate languages and schemas to act and communicate as one.”
Once that communication is achieved, a seemingly insignificant item can surface. If the old bromide “little hinges swing big doors” is at all true, it certainly would be in the realm of law enforcement.
How valuable can a small bit of information be? Consider: David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam” killer, was identified by a witness who saw a postal worker remove a parking ticket from the windshield of his car near the scene of a shooting. The car’s registration was linked to Berkowitz, and the serial killer was caught and later confessed.
Mr. Heffner said C.O.B.R.A. can bring such information, quickly and wirelessly, to police on patrol. Some 250 law enforcement agencies nationwide, in five states, are using the product, he said.
The system’s interface is simple; it’s “designed for tactical use, not a full-on strategic experience,” he added. “Database mumbo-jumbo is irrelevant at that moment” of a stop on the street.
During one such stop, an officer using the C.O.B.R.A. system made a discovery, Mr. Heffner said: The policeman “ran a license number through COBRA, and it linked to a person on a completely unrelated situation,” prompting further action.
Such “unrelated” - but highly important - information is critical: “When you type in that plate at 5 a.m., you want to get all that information back that’s relevant,” he added.
Mr. Heffner said the main system runs under Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system software and is designed “with police officers in mind. No training is required.” That C.O.B.R.A. has found a home in so many police agencies would suggest it’s worth examination by more law enforcement organizations, I would imagine.