Big data is often used to sell consumers “stuff,” but it has plenty of truly helpful applications, too. One company trying to gather and sift through data to catch bad guys, for example, is Forensic Logic, a 10-person, San Francisco-based company behind a growing law enforcement data sharing platform. With information from roughly 600 local enforcement agencies around the country, users of its platform can, say, track down anyone who has ever been associated with a particular license plate, or every incident related to a certain kind of shell casing, all within seconds.
Getting buy-in from those agencies hasn’t been a walk in the park. For the most part, 11-year-old Forensic Logic’s bottom-up approach has meant convincing one agency at a time of its merits, starting with a “hub” city. Take the police department of Oakland, Ca., which began using Forensic Logic’s technology to disrupt criminal networks. Once information from its massive police department was poured into Forensic Logic’s repository, its database became more compelling to neighboring city police departments, including Vallejo, Ca., where it’s now a lot easier to track down a robber who might dump his getaway vehicle on one of its streets.
The company has had to fend against plenty of competitors, including IBM, which helps many police departments process crime-related data. (IBM acquired Forensic Logic’s most direct competitor, CopLink, in 2011 for an undisclosed amount.)
But Forensic Logic has reached a tipping point, says its cofounder and CEO, Bob Batty, who’s about to begin seeking $15 million in funding for the company, which has so far raised $3.5 million from individual investors.
For one thing, the company has struck a a growing number of partnerships with federal agencies, among them the FBI, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or ATF, whose data Forensic Logic has been extracting digitally and scanning, making it searchable by any law enforcement officer with an Internet connection.
Looking at the broader market opportunity, there are roughly 18,000 U.S. law enforcement agencies altogether that employ about one million people. Forensic Logic, which operates under FBI criminal justice system regulations and so must be able to record every single user (and every keystroke he or she makes), charges $300 per person per year for its technology.
Forensic Logic is broadening into other markets, too. It has pilot programs to identify shoplifters in place with Walmart, Kohl’s and Target. (Using facial recognition technologies, Forensic Logic can send names and other information to the companies’ loss-prevention departments in real time, it says.)
It’s also working with tobacco companies to stop tobacco counterfeiting, which has become a $34 billion business. (Up to 20 percent of cigarettes sold in the U.S. are made illegally in China and smuggled in.)
Indeed, says Batty, the money the company will look to raise will stretch across six categories, including a field organization to get more of its software installed within local law enforcement agencies, and a retail group.
It seems like a lot to take on. Batty insists otherwise, though.
“What we’re selling is bits,” he says. “And we can we sell them many times to many people.”