The Blue Crush
All photos courtesy Major Susan Lowe
The RTCC was built 14 months after a Memphis panel visited the NYPD’s RTCC, after which it was modeled. Staffed by a mix of sworn officers and civilians, this is the hub of the Blue CRUSH program. This is where intelligence—from PDAs, cameras, law enforcement databases—is gathered, analyzed and reviewed. The approach empowers the department to proactively place resources where they are most needed based on evolving data. Remember: Superior intelligence carries the day—all the more important to keep in mind in these days of budgetary shortfalls and short staffing. All photos courtesy Major Susan Lowe
SkyCop began with pole cameras that monitored critical shipping infrastructure at the port. All surveillance video uses the same camera configuration and streams seamlessly to the RTCC. Live video provides true situational awareness, which fosters better decisions.All photos courtesy Major Susan Lowe
The MPD worked with systems integrator ESI Company to build its LPR solution from the ground up. The pan-tilt mount comes from marine applications. Officers can toggle between a FLIR camera and LPR, and they can control the camera from a console-mounted touch screen. “Today, LPR is the most valuable tool in the squad car,” says Lt. Shackleford. “It’s a force multiplier, as well as an effective tool for officer safety.”All photos courtesy Major Susan Lowe
FEATURED IN TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATIONS
Images of crime fighting centers filled with banks of computers and high-tech analysts may be the norm on TV, but in the real world, these centers are found in only a few, very large departments. The ability to fully engage with technology has unfortunately been limited to those agencies with significant financial resources or the ability to acquire grants.
But this is changing. Crimes traditionally associated with bigger cities—drug and human trafficking, organized crime, epidemic drug use and so on—have plagued even small-town America in recent years. Progressive agencies, regardless of their size, are leveraging technologies to share information between agencies and other stakeholders.
Perhaps no other department in the U.S. has pioneered more in this regard than the Memphis (Tenn.) Police Department. It is a paragon of what’s possible.
Beginnings of a Program
2005 saw crime rise in many American cities. This was certainly the case in Memphis. After decades of relative tranquility, Memphis suddenly found itself ranking among the most dangerous cities in the U.S., according to some national magazines.
In September, 2005, Director Larry Godwin observed that crime in Memphis was steadily trending upward. Director Godwin convened a meeting of key players to devise a plan to curb that trend. The meeting included Director Godwin, the U.S. attorney of West Tennessee, the Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons, the MPD Organized Crime Unit commander and Professor Richard Janikowski, director of Criminology and Research at the University of Memphis.
Everyone agreed that the old way wasn’t working, and out of these meetings a way forward emerged. Director Godwin and Professor Janikowski worked out a plan in which the MPD would provide the University of Memphis with crime data, and the university, using IBM’s SPSS analytical software and ESRI’s ArcGIS, would pinpoint where and when crime was occurring. The two organizations would be in constant, real-time collaboration.
Police would then use this data to focus their resources on problem areas. Pilot programs began in high crime areas of the city. Crime reduction in these areas ranged from 37% to a staggering 80%. It became clear to those involved that this partnership was working and that it should be implemented citywide to achieve the results needed to reduce crime. The name of the methodology that emerged was Blue CRUSH—Crime Reduction Utilizing Statistical History.
In December 2006, Memphis Mayor W.W. Herenton requested that a team of his administration visit the NYPD to observe and evaluate their law enforcement successes. It became obvious to the Memphis panel that NYPD had tools that could work at home—especially their Real Time Crime Center (RTCC). Upon returning to Memphis, the director also met with staff to discuss the NYPD’s CompStat initiative and domestic violence program. All of this led to a merger of several current projects and ongoing strategies.
No less than a fundamental shift in the culture of the department was Director Godwin’s goal. He recognized that to ensure long-term success, he would need buy-in from everyone in the department—from every line officer and all the way up the chain of command.
Starting in late 2005, the department took the initiative to train supervisors and solicit input from line officers in the tenets of Blue CRUSH. The department would foster a culture that embraced the use of crime analysis and technology in the reduction of crime. As they put it, “Placing the officers in the right place, at the right time, on the right day and crime can be reduced by either deterrence or apprehension of offenders.”
Among his reorganizational moves, Director Godwin approached the mayor with the idea of creating an appointed rank of colonel to provide increased accountability at the precinct level. After receiving the mayor’s approval, the idea was presented to council and was approved unanimously. (The previous rank of the precinct commander had been a civil service position.)
Director Godwin then presented a crime plan to the mayor that would require an increase in the overtime budget due to personnel shortages. This was done by demonstrating to the mayor the successes of Blue CRUSH and the significant reduction in crime that was realized. After receiving the approval from the mayor for the overtime budget, it was then presented to council where it also was unanimously approved. This provided the MPD the flexibility to deploy officers as needed.
Monthly CompStat meetings were changed to weekly Blue CRUSH TRAC (Tracking, Responsibility, Accountability and Credibility) meetings. Colonels are held accountable for the crime rate in their precinct, their plan for addressing this crime and their overtime budget. In these meetings, the effectiveness of the previous week’s crime plan is reviewed and the new crime plan is presented. The message to the organization was clear: Every officer is accountable from the patrol officer all the way through the director.
“After implementation, the feedback from the community has been positive. They like the technology and the results we are achieving,” says Sgt. Karen Rudolph.
What It Is
The Blue CRUSH methodology incorporates many technologies, and the RTCC has become the hub of the initiative.
The focus of the RTCC is to provide data relevant to reducing crime in Memphis and to share data with federal, state and local agencies, including the Tennessee Fusion Center.
MPD experienced a huge cost savings by partnering with the University of Memphis on development of its software. This is in comparison to outside vendor’s software, which could cost $100,000–500,000. MPD spends “between $10,000 and $20,000 per year for licensing of IBM’s SPSS Predictive Analysis software,” says Deputy Chief Jim Harvey.
Using an out-of-the-box solution by an outside vendor doesn’t give an agency the flexibility to produce a report not already built into the software.
Another aspect of the Blue CRUSH initiative is called SkyCop. “We began with pole-mounted cameras to protect critical infrastructure within our city,” says Lt. Shackleford. “The cameras have become so effective, they are now used throughout the city to monitor high-crime areas as well as special events, and they’re showing a significant decrease in crime.”
The RTCC allows officers and civilian analysts to be housed in one central location where data is analyzed and shared. This allows the analyst to distribute this data to patrol officers in the field who are equipped with PDAs. The officers now have the ability to submit their reports in minutes. The additional technology and equipment, such as fixed and mobile video cameras and license plate reader cameras, have enhanced their ability to deal with situations and issues in real time, which contributes to the effectiveness of the RTCC.
In today’s world, crime is not limited to large cities. Criminals cross boundaries, and whether large or small, communities must be prepared to meet this challenge.
The MPD has shown that it might be the best example of how to do this. As of Jan. 1, 2011, the city has seen property crime decrease by 26.2% since 2006. Violent crime has shown a decrease of 23.6% (including a 40% drop in homicides). Since the implementation of Blue CRUSH in 2006, all Part 1 crimes have decreased 26.5%—more than 18,000 fewer offenses. What the Memphis Police Department has accomplished takes time and vision.
It all goes back to the planning meeting Director Godwin organized with Professor Janikowski, the Shelby County district attorney, the assistant U.S. attorney and members of the MPD Organized Crime Unit. “An initiative such as this requires taking one step at a time, for one cause, to make our community safe,” says Director Godwin.
Lessons from Memphis
Leadership comes from the top down—& the bottom up. Director Godwin was something of a visionary in the first days of Blue CRUSH. But he was also realistic. By arranging the right people in the right positions—creating the appointed position of colonel, for example—he was able to ensure he had the best people working for him.
But he also got buy-in from the patrol officers. Blue CRUSH contributes to officer safety & empowers officers. Input has been fielded from the field since its inception.
Tap your officers’ talents. Much of what was done at the MPD was done by people in the department who had some interest in technology. Chief Harvey, for example, knew computer code. Chief Harvey describes Lt. Shackleford, who spearheaded the SkyCop project as “a video guru.” Chief Harvey says, “Our department has police officers who are also geeks. Every department does.” Use these people to their full potential.
The other side of this: Cops can & should be trained in technology. Weigh technical aptitude appropriately when hiring.
Tap your community’s talents. The MPD has formed strategic partnerships with communities, politicians, corrections agencies, courts, businesses—wherever they’ve needed a partner, they’ve gained one. Especially fruitful has been the partnership with the University of Memphis. “This has been a beneficial program for the department & the university,” says Harvey. “They have access to our data for research & we have access to their research. Agencies can’t afford not to share this information with their local universities—it’s a free resource.”
What you don’t control, someone else does. Not every department will be able to write its own code or even team up with a local university, but every department should be careful when vendors promise simple solutions. Bottom line: Simplicity is great, but things change—& vendors charge.
Crime analysts & police officers must understand each other’s perspectives. This one is simple. Teamwork requires understanding, & the RTCC is the hub where cops & analysts bring it all together.
Lead based on intelligence. Gather data, review it & use it to formulate your department’s way forward. Hunches supplement intelligence, rather than supplant it.
Get grants & demonstrate worth. Significant infrastructure funding for Blue CRUSH came from federal grants. No one will give you money if you don’t properly request it. But the day-to-day operations come out of the general fund. By reducing costs wherever possible & meeting regularly with—& listening to—local politicians & community leaders, the MPD has engendered the goodwill of the people. This is critical when local budgets are tight.
The MPD has one of the best police websites out there. Watch videos, check out the RTCC, learn about Blue CRUSH, buy t-shirts—it has it all. This is a true community resource. www.memphispolice.org