Monday, December 21, 2009

MethHunter: Find, Fix And Incarcerate! (DagirCo)

Want to cut your town's meth problem in half next year? You can. Really.

The guys over at Dagirco have finally done it! MethHunter is on the streets and check out these early stats: One of our small, local police departments is using it and they have had over a dozen busts and over a half dozen convictions in the last six months. The best part? The program has cut the time it takes to conduct an investigation in half!

One of local TV stations (WICU) recently did a five part special series on meth in NW Pennsylvania in general and on the MethHunter in particular. The video below is only one part of the five part series. The other four parts can be accessed at the end of this video:

I am particularly proud to say I know the team at DagirCo that put this piece of software together. Most of them, including Mark Blair, the CEO, are Mercyhurst grads and I have had the great good fortune to have many of them in class over the years.

Beyond this, though, I am particularly impressed with the way they tackled the problem. They have essentially created an expert system that looks at pill shopping patterns and "thinks" about them the same way a meth expert might think about them. It automates, as Mark puts it in one of the videos, the "80% of the tedious, time-consuming" work of analyzing purchase records. It even examines the shopping patterns for evidence of denial and deception on the part of the pill shoppers!

It is easy for you to imagine this all getting very technical and difficult to interpret. That is where this program really shines. The DagirCo team has worked particularly hard to make the program user friendly for small town and rural police forces. Their thinking was that large cities often have dedicated meth experts but that small and rural police forces may not have the resources for such a position. This meant that the program had to produce something that was understandable and actionable by a police officer who had received no special training.

It turns out that the straightforward, cop-friendly way the program generates output benefits both small and large police forces. It gives the smaller police force a capability where it had none before and it saves the experts in the larger forces time that can be better spent looking at aspects of the meth problem that the software cannot address.

The DagirCo team is also particulaly proud of the "engine" they developed to drive the MethHunter. They think it can be used in a broad range of applications. Currently, they are thinking about how it might be applied to other problem drugs and even other crimes in general (they are working on an anti-graffitti version right now). Mark, a former marine, also believes a modified version of this software could be useful in analyzing insurgent attack patterns in Afghanistan and elsewhere.


markcblair said...

Thanks for the great write-up Prof Wheaton. We at DAGIR Co. and our collaborators at the MERIT Training Group are very proud of Meth Hunter and its successes. Our analytic skills were forged in military service, and later honed at MCIIS and on the “Wheaton Stone” of structured analysis, so please Sir, don’t hesitate to take a bow yourself.

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

Thanks, but we are all standing on "the shoulders of giants"...

I know how much time and effort you and the DagirCo team put into this and, therefore, I know where to put the credit.

Best of luck to you in the New Year!

Anonymous said...

So all this is is a program to spy on all of our shopping habits. Gee, how American is that? But then again, how American is even telling people what they can do with their own bodies? Sounds like something out of Communist Russia. Congratulations, traitor.

Kristan J. Wheaton said...


As someone with fairly strong civil libertarian tendencies myself, I see your point.

Let's talk about it.

First,the program does not spy on people. The law requires that pharmacies collect the data. All the program does is interpret that data. It automates a process that police are already doing -- slowly and manually.

The purpose behind the law is to help stop the production of methamphetamines. This is a highly addictive drug that impacts not just the user (your argument) but can and has destroyed entire families and even communities.

If you are a strict libertarian (and you may well be) then your response to this may be "so?"

I think, however, that civil liberties have to have some corresponding level of civic duties. You don't yell "fire" in a crowded theater, you don't travel on public highways at whatever speed you want and you don't get to make meth.