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E-School’s Web tool helps police catch crooks

The history of interaction between police officers and college students has had its fair share of friction. Today, though, Virginia cops might tip their hats to students from UVA’s Department of Systems and Information Engineering and their faculty mentors.

The students, overseen by research scientist Jamie Conklin, program director of the Engineering School’s Predictive Technology Laboratory, are the force behind the Web-based Crime Analysis Toolkit, or WebCAT. Its purpose: analyze crime data and allow law enforcement agencies to share it, even across jurisdictional boundaries.

The project was initiated by Don Brown, who chairs the systems and information engineering department. Police enter information about crimes, including date, location, type of crime, and weapons used, into the program. The program receives constant upgrades from students who have refined WebCAT as part of their fourth-year capstone projects since 2001.

“This is quick and easy, so almost any officer can become a crime analyst,” says Conklin. “And the simplicity of it means crime analysis will be done more.”