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Nassau cops' digital dragnet for heroin traffickers

Nassau police will launch a new technology-driven strategy to catch people trafficking heroin onto Long Island and will significantly increase the number of officers assigned full-time to such investigations, according to county officials.

The new initiative, named Operation HALT (Heroin Abuse Location and Targeting) will target the flow of heroin - typically bought from New York City dealers and driven back to Long Island neighborhoods - and rely heavily on computer databases filled with car and arrest data.

The databases of license numbers gathered by car-mounted plate readers, will be cross-referenced with heroin arrest information, phone numbers and surveillance to create a kind of digital dragnet for heroin dealers, said Patrick Ryder, commanding officer of the department's Asset Forfeiture and Intelligence team.

By analyzing a large amount of information gathered on Long Island as well as in heroin-rich neighborhoods in New York City, individual targets and overall patterns can be spotted. Though the strategy has been successful in burglary and other kinds of investigations, Ryder said it's the first time that large-scale data mining will be employed in Nassau to go after the heroin trade.

"We can get a hundred thousand plates in Nassau and run them against a hundred thousand plates from the city and whittle it down to two potential targets in a day," he said.

"I can get 1,000 phone numbers and compare them to the numbers we get off this one dealer and these ten kids...and find one number, and that's a target."

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