An emergency call comes in about a possible bomb in lower Manhattan and an alert pops up on computer screens at the New York Police Department, instantly showing officers an interactive map of the neighbourhood, footage from nearby security cameras, whether there are high radiation levels and whether any other threats have been made against the city.
In a click, police know exactly what they're getting into.
Such a hypothetical scenario may seem like something out of a futuristic crime drama, but the technology is real, developed in a partnership between America's largest police department and Microsoft Corp., and the latest version has been quietly in use for about a year.
The project could pay off in more ways than one: The NYPD could make tens of millions of dollars under an unprecedented marketing deal that allows Microsoft to sell the system to other law enforcement agencies and civilian companies around the world. The city will get a 30 per cent cut.
The Domain Awareness System, known as the dashboard, gives easy access to the police department's voluminous arrest records, telephone calls, more than 3,000 security cameras citywide, license plate readers and portable radiation detectors. This is all public data, not additional surveillance.
Right now, it is used only in NYPD offices, mostly in the counterterrorism unit. Eventually, the system could supply crime-fighting information in real time to officers on laptops in their squad cars and on mobile devices while they walk the beat.
"It works incredibly well," said Jessica Tisch, director of planning and policy for the counterterrorism unit.
For example, officers used the system during a deadly shooting outside the Empire State Building in August. Dozens of emergency telephone calls were coming in, and it initially looked like an attack staged by several gunmen. But officers mapped the information and pulled up cameras within 500 feet (150 metres) of the reported shots to determine there was only one shooter.