Can Software Solve Crime Cases? Roger That
The final college semester for the average American undergraduate usually involves a combination of intense weeks of cramming, job searching, interviewing, and some euphoric nights of debauchery. For the founders of law enforcement software startup Mark43, their final months at Harvard in 2013 involved 5 a.m. wake-up calls on Saturdays and police ride-alongs in Springfield, Massachusetts. And while their classmates were living it up during Senior Week, Scott Crouch, 23, Flo Mayr, 23, and Matt Polega, 23, were busy pitching VC firms. Three days before graduation, they signed a term sheet for $1.95 million.
Mark43 is also the name of the company's record management system that lets police officers store and analyze case data online. According to customers, Mark43 stands out among its competitors for its ability to not only sift through reams of data and surface what's most important to a case, but also for its ability to perform powerful link and pattern analysis on a granular level. The software can quickly parse thousands of cell-phone records and social-media posts. It can help determine homicide timelines on the basis of patterns of communication. Officers can even use the software to determine how much clout a certain individual has within a specific gang, because algorithms factor in how people are connected to one another.
One detective on a Los Angeles gang task force that's using a beta version of Mark43 estimated that the software has been used in approximately 35 cases since the fall--including robberies, narcotics trafficking, and homicides. It has helped bring at least 15 cases through the prosecution and conviction stages, says the detective, who asked not to be named because he's not authorized to speak to the press. "It's a game changer," he says. "A lot of companies are trying to mine the same data, but no one else has this [tailored] down to the level of an individual detective."
Mark43's three co-founders made it their mission to learn exactly what these detectives need. Back in 2012, as a class project, their ex-Green Beret professor sent them to Springfield to observe how the police department used data. "Not well," was the short answer, says Crouch, now Mark43's CEO. They weren't out there to write software, but when they saw the antiquated, desktop-based systems the department used, not to mention the three-ring binders that often hold important case data, they decided to take a shot at creating something better.
After validating the concept in Springfield, winning $75,000 in Harvard's Presidential Challenge, and raising nearly $2 million from Spark Capital and other backers, the team showed the software to several Los Angeles gang task forces and landed its first contract. Crouch says the group is currently in the process of launching the software--which sells for about $25 to $30 per officer per month--at one of the country's biggest police departments (he couldn't specify which one).
In the coming months, Mark43's 11-person team, which is based in New York City, aims to get into more metropolitan police departments. In February, the startup received a big vote of confidence from the law enforcement industry when Edward Davis, former Boston police commissioner, joined the board. The bigger vision is to someday create a national network that lets police departments share information, a project for which Davis will lend considerable credibility.
But for now, they're OK with pursuing a more mundane goal: "We're making government contracting sexy again!" Crouch says.
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