Back in November I suffered through the San Diego-to-Los Angeles commuter traffic to see many of the new software products and gadgets being shown at the 2004 International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference. One product that caught my eye was i2 Inc.'s new Visual Notebook, an electronic "storyboard" that investigators can use to visualize, analyze, and present the complexities of any incident.
Founded in 1990, i2 Inc. has been providing software solutions to help analysts manage the vast amounts of information every case produces. The company's flagship product, Analyst Notebook, is used by agencies at every level of government.
Some of you may see i2's new Visual Notebook as an intrusion into the analyst's domain. I don't. I believe it enhances the team concept, creating an electronic bridge between analysts and investigators where both may communicate and scrutinize the minutiae of a case.
The software itself is fairly similar to Analyst Notebook and it's intuitive and easy to use. But the true benefit of Visual Notebook in an investigation is eliminating the traditional clutter of paper files, "yellow stickies," and scribbled notes on crumpled pieces of paper.
Built for Windows NT 4.0 (sp6) or higher, Visual Notebook works in both standalone and networked environments. It needs at least 200MB of free disk space, 128MB of RAM, and a 500MHz processor. I'd strongly recommend a Pentium III or higher PC with a video card that's ready for a graphics workout. As a security measure, the application also requires you to insert a coded dongle into a USB or parallel port before the software will activate.
Using Visual Notebook is as simple as dragging and dropping icons onto a pasteboard then adding appropriate links to source materials and information. And you don't have to be an artist to create an attractive and informational presentation. Visual Notebook provides a huge assortment of icons sorted into defined categories. The icons represent events or elements of crime, incidents, or organizations.
Once the investigator has a basic understanding of the case or subject material, he or she just drags out an icon from the palette and drops it onto the workspace. With Visual Notebook's vast array of choices you can easily depict any event.
Once you've dragged and dropped the basic component of the incident, all you have to do is add the links or suspected links between the elements of the event. It's that simple. Visual Notebook is a straightforward point-and-click application. Right clicking on any object lets you drill into its properties, allows you to describe its attributes, label, or link elsewhere.
As your case develops and the investigative team discovers new information, it can be quickly distilled, analyzed, and shared using Visual Notebook's visual pasteboard. Whether the information comes from individuals, diagrams, events, places, or electronic intelligence sources, the software allows users to keep up with the relevant information in a visual format.