Thursday, December 24, 2009

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.