In an unlikely next move for career law officer Edward F. Davis, the former Boston police commissioner is joining a tech startup.
Davis will take a board seat with Mark43, a company founded by three Harvard University graduates that has been making big waves in the law enforcement community. Formed out of a class project, the company makes software that provides real-time data analysis of criminal activity and better manages the records police use to keep tabs on suspects.
After piloting the software with a State Police gang unit in Springfield, Mark43 landed its first contract last year with the Los Angeles County Gang Task Force.
“We’re in a really good time across the nation in terms of dropping crime rates, but I still think we’re only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of technology in police work,” said Davis, who stepped down from the top spot in the Boston Police Department last fall.
Davis is currently on a fellowship at the Institute of Politics at Harvard, and he also recently announced he will be a security analyst for WBZ-TV. He is also considering other consulting work in the area of police technology.
For far too long, Davis said, police departments have not had access to the kind of sophisticated computing tools that companies such as Google or Facebook use to quickly crunch and understand data. In addition to managing department records, Mark43 employs social analytics capabilities that can mine massive amounts of police data to find otherwise unknown ties among gang members or links between criminal suspects.
Similar to the way LinkedIn draws correlations based on users’ backgrounds and business experience, Mark43 makes connections among suspected criminals or gang members based on their histories, arrests, and relationships.
“That’s the exciting part of this,” said Davis. “They’re showing real benefit to investigators. It’s streamlining all the information.”
Despite its Boston origins, Mark43 has not signed on Boston’s police department as a customer. However, the company does expect to announce this spring that another major metropolitan police department will use its software.
Davis met the team behind Mark43 on his first day of civilian life. He was attending an event at the Harvard Innovation Lab, a campus gathering place for startups and entrepreneurs, where the Mark43 team had been working on the software.
“I was excited to hear that they were doing something that was different,” said Davis. Much of the computer software used by urban police is outdated, cumbersome, and expensive, he said.
Indeed, in the tech startup world, few companies are focusing on the public safety industry. And that’s a big opportunity for Mark43, said chief executive Scott Crouch, who graduated from Harvard last year.
Mark43 grew out of a class project in which Crouch and two cofounders worked with the Springfield gang unit. Crouch and the other students were tasked with coming up with a program that could use social analytics so the unit could better understand gang relationships, track them, and dismantle their networks.
“We didn’t know much about law enforcement,” said Crouch. But “the first thing we noticed was that their law enforcement software was awful.”
The project quickly turned into a startup that began gaining attention last spring. First, it won a Harvard University entrepreneurship competition; then it landed a $2 million funding deal led by Spark Capital, a Boston firm know for backing Twitter and other successful technology firms.
“These are the types of guys who would be working at Twitter or Facebook, but they spent a lot of time with the Springfield gang unit,” said Alex Finkelstein, a general partner at Spark Capital. “These guys saw the problem firsthand and wanted to solve it.”
The investment is the first for Spark in law enforcement technology. Finkelstein was finalizing the deal with Mark43 on the same day the company’s founders were graduating from Harvard.
Now based in New York, the founders renamed the company from Nucleik to Mark43 — a reference to the “Iron Man” movie series, where the suit of armor worn by character Tony Stark in “Iron Man 3” was named Mark 42.
“We wanted to go for a cooler feel,” said Crouch. “It’s a reference to superheroes, and we are really trying to serve the first responders.”