4

This particular plot device is now commonplace in today's movies and TV shows. For example, we have a character like Penelope Garcia in Criminal Minds, who has access to all kinds of government databases, and who can (normally) find the perfect link between the pieces of information that she is given.

I'm curious about the first movie or TV show to illustrate the use a database to help the law enforcement professionals or a private detective find the criminal more quickly than had he/she only had the raw clues of the case to go on.

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    "Crime computer" is a little ambiguous. A fingerprint or face database could also qualify, yes? Even looking up a licence plate might do. – coleopterist Jun 2 '13 at 3:58
  • @coleopterist That's true, I was thinking in terms of any of those, so I didn't really want to limit it. – jonsca Jun 2 '13 at 4:02
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    I was inspired by watching "Chinatown" (1974), where Jack Nicholson's character goes to the "hall of records", and I wondered about the extent of that era's reliance on electronic aides. – jonsca Jun 2 '13 at 4:04
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Approaching this from a real-life perspective, one of the earliest crime databases was that of the NCIC (National Crime Information Center) which was set up in 1967.

On January 27, 1967, the system was launched on 15 state and city computers that were tied into the FBI's central computer in Washington, D.C.—which at that time contained five files and 356,784 records on things like stolen autos, stolen license plates, stolen/missing guns, and wanted persons/fugitives. In its first year of operation, NCIC processed approximately 2.4 million transactions, an average of 5,479 transactions daily.

The first hit came in May 1967, when a New York City police officer—suspicious of a parked car—radioed in a request for an NCIC search of the license plate. Within 90 seconds, he was informed that the car had been stolen a month earlier in Boston. We got a report that the patrolman exclaimed, "It works! It works!"

A police drama named Adam-12 which ran between 1968 and 1975 appears to have been the first to incorporate NCIC checks in its plot. IMDb's blurb for the eighteenth episode of the first season, Log 112: You Blew It (broadcast on 8 Feb. 1969) reads:

Malloy and Reed conduct a traffic stop, but decide to let the man off with a warning before the NCIC check is completed. In their haste, they let a man wanted on armed robbery and weapons charges go free. The lieutenant calls the officers in to scold them for not going "by the book," particularly since another officer could have responded to the scene of what turned out to be a routine domestic dispute. Malloy and Reed must then put their being scolded behind them as they come up with a plan to nab the wanted criminal.

  • Fantastic, that's exactly the type of thing I was looking for. – jonsca Jun 2 '13 at 5:54
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    I believe the Bat-Computer predates Adam-12. youtube.com/watch?v=KNR8pBLLWHk#t=134s – Will Feldman Jun 2 '13 at 6:55
  • @WillFeldman heh! It was going so well until Batman asks for the yellow pages :) – coleopterist Jun 2 '13 at 7:46
  • @WillFeldman That could make for another answer, if it matched up with any existing tech at the time... – jonsca Jun 3 '13 at 3:05
  • (cost non-withstanding) – jonsca Jun 3 '13 at 3:06
2

The 1967 German film Der Mörderclub von Brooklyn (English title: Murderers Club of Brooklyn) appears to contain the following lines in the English subtitles:

00:03:31 You don't really believe that by yourself, do you?.

00:03:34 Start talking! - I'm sorry, but all of a sudden I seem to suffer from amnesia.

00:05:46 Those three already have a criminal record. We found them in our database.

00:05:50 They insist that they picked the wrong appartment.

00:05:54 They were ordered to be here, that's evident.

  • Not sure if that proves anything, the software was named for its similarity to the real world. So a big card index was known as a database, and when you hear the word used into the late seventies, usually in news articles of big crime investigations it was card indexes they meant. – The Wandering Dev Manager Dec 14 '15 at 6:46
  • @TheWanderingDevManager: There was a technological level between a "computer" and a manual card catalog: a machine-sorted punched-card database. Mechanically-sorted punched cards could 90%-automate many tasks that would otherwise require a lot more work. – supercat May 29 '18 at 23:14
  • @supercat - I don't understand your point. Prior to punch cards there were databases of 3x5 cards, like an old library index. – The Wandering Dev Manager Jun 5 '18 at 18:20
  • @TheWanderingDevManager: Some card indices were manually sorted and examined, but by the 1970s a significant number could be processed automatically. I would think that by the late 1970s, the term "database" would often be used to describe the automated sort. It's been awhile since I've watched the 1950s film The Desk Set; it would be interesting to see what term was used for the EMERAC machine in that movie (Google, decades before its time). – supercat Jun 5 '18 at 19:03

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