From Alaska to the East Coast, law enforcement agencies are using crime mapping to communicate with their communities and focus their resources and investigations. The benefits of this technological tool are countless, and the options for implementation are growing.
Crime on Google
Today, when you say Google, no one blinks. Just about everyone knows you can look up almost anything on Google s Web site, and a law enforcement agency in Kansas now has its citizens Googling crime activity in their neighborhoods. In the Midwestern town of Leawood, population 30,000, current and prospective residents keep informed of local crime through a new Web application run through Google Maps.
Leawood s project originated three years ago in Chicago when 24-year-old journalist and Web guru Adrian Holovaty overlaid the Chicago Police Department s crime stats on a Google map. Since then, Chicagoans visit
www.chicagocrime.org to learn what alleys, bus stations and restaurants to avoid. The department s own Web site, Citizen ICAM, allows residents to search for recently reported crimes and is not affiliated with Holovaty s site, which has won national awards for its innovativeness.
Enter the Leawood Police Department (LPD) a year later, which heard of the ability to use Google Maps to track crime. Looking for an affordable tool to complement the agency s Intergraph records management system (RMS), it turned to the Johnson County Automated Information Mapping System (AIMS), a county-wide governmental department established in the mid-1980s. In addition to meeting the mapping and documenting requirements of state law, AIMS now offers its affiliates GIS mapping services.
The AIMS personnel told us they could match or duplicate what was done with Chicago s information because Google offers its maps for free, as long as you keep its name on it, says the LPD s Mike Pelger. We ve fooled a lot of people because it s been very easy and cheap. It was $3,900 for us to do this.
With no monthly expenses involved because of its pre-existing yearly contract with AIMS, the department paid the startup costs and worked with AIMS Web developers to get the site live, which came to fruition Dec. 15, 2006.
The challenge, Pelger says, was to decide which information to offer and which to keep private. The site doesn t provide a ton of information, but enough that the curious can find out why a patrol car was in their area, or research a neighborhood for specific stats. It may say traffic stop or alarm at home or even domestic dispute, says Pelger.
Obviously, we want to let the community know if there s a problem with rapes occurring, but that s a very sensitive crime, he explains. Assistance came, he says, by looking at other agencies sites and comparing the pros and cons. In the end, he says, We felt it was best to leave out any sexual crimes, and crimes in which the victim was under the age of 18.
In addition to catering to community s concerns, the benefit to the agency itself has been immense. My phone has almost stopped ringing, says Pelger, who use to receive roughly 15 calls a week, fielding questions from residents. It was taking up a good portion of my day. I would have to do research, put the information into a spreadsheet and then reach the person inquiring, he says.
Local neighborhood associations and realtors can also now obtain information and statistics on their own. All they have to do is Google.
First of all, my philosophy is, If you can t measure it, you can t manage it, says Richmond (Va.) Police Department Chief Rodney Monroe.
Prior to taking the position in Richmond in 2005, Monroe served as the chief of police in Macon, Ga., where he instituted Target Review, a system that uses computer-mapping technology and crime analysis to target crime and organize appropriate police response. He brought this knowledge to Richmond, and in 2007, won the Gartner Business Intelligence Excellence Award for the mapping and analysis in Virginia s capital city.
The department s system was developed using Information Builders WebFOCUS software, ESRI s ArcGIS software and SPSS Clementine statistical analysis software. Together, these products provide a crime analysis, data mining, mapping, reporting and GIS system for the entire agency, which is broken into 12 sectors throughout the city of Richmond.
The main benefit? Focus, says Monroe. With limited resources, it s always about maximizing our efforts, he explains. Using CAD data with the RMS and then mapping it allows the agency to pinpoint when and where crime is occurring. Add in factors such as time, weather, special events, etc., and we see a reasonable opportunity to determine where we need to put our resources.
The focused attempt affects all officer ranks, from the chief to the patrol cop. Lieutenants who oversee the 12 sectors of Richmond can set thresholds within the software programs. These limits could include stolen automobiles, other robberies, sexual assaults, etc. any crime they may be having an issue with.
The top cops then receive an alert when that limit is reached. If I have more than three robberies within a predetermined geographical area, the system alerts me so I can start deploying resources in order not to have the fourth, fifth or sixth incident, explains Monroe.
It s a more focused attempt at patrolling the city, he adds. I don t think any officer should leave roll call without having a specific problem they re looking to address. And, that problem may be broken into hourly slots.
Richmond now sees the positive results of its efforts. In 2005, the city s crime rate decreased 12 percent, 22 percent in 2006 and 12 percent in 2007.
This trend translates into not only safer communities for city residents, but also a safer job for the department s officers. Any time you can give officers constant information on what the problems are, where to focus their attention, who to focus on and when, it makes them much better prepared for going out on the street, the chief says.
The history of the streets, he says, is just as important as the present. Knowing the people, crime tendencies, tensions and other particulars helps cops keep one step ahead of the crooks.
Another key part of this overall analytic strategy, says Monroe, is mapping the crimes and all their small elements. Viewing all robberies as one category is too large, he explains. It may be the lighting in an area, a certain group of people or type of business, he says. When you do a true analysis, it allows you to see the smaller elements and focus on those. Knowing trends such as time, location, victim, perpetrator, environmental issues, etc., keeps officers effective and safe.
Crime is a lot about patterns, Monroe says. The quicker you can identify the pattern and what it s based on, the more success you ll have. The more success, the less crime, and less cost for the department, city and taxpayers.
And, he says, it s important for law enforcement to trust the technology available to them today. Our brain can comprehend and analyze only so much. Technology can do it for us.
Same in the Sun
In sunny California, the crime trend isn t much different than other parts of the country crooks still find time to steal, cheat, lie and murder. In Sacramento, however, the citizens can now track when and where the bad guys are striking.
In this city of more than 400,000, the department is divided into six patrol districts. The city s crime-analysis unit consists of a sergeant, one officer and several civilian staff who constantly track and analyze local crime trends.
Obviously, that s a huge resource for us as officers, says Sergeant Matt Young, an officer with the Sacramento Police Department s Public Relations office. If we see a spike in robberies in a certain geographic area, we can focus our resources there.
Young also speaks to the capabilities citizens are taking advantage of online. Phone calls into the department have declined, but department interaction with the community is at an all-time high. From blogs to crime tracking to suspicious-activity reports, Sacramento is keeping in touch with its residents. The local news stations also work with the department to tap its crime-tracking abilities for public dissemination.
It s Elemental
Donald Dixon, a criminal justice professor in Sacramento and former Dallas Police Department crime analyst, spent five years studying arrest data for violent juvenile crime in Dallas. He used modern crime mapping techniques, combined with census data, and was able to pinpoint where the crime was occurring, but also the elements, or underlying causes, of the crimes themselves.
When juveniles live in an area long enough, they re influenced by the neighborhood, the same schools, the same peers, Dixon told the Sacramento State News in 2003. He mapped five years of juvenile arrests, identifying the hot spots. Of the 3,600 arrests he studied, 1/6 occurred in just four neighborhoods that made up less than 2 percent of the city s physical size.
Other elemental issues he noticed were income, education, racial makeup and number of two-parent households. That s not a surprise, but a new way to look at it, he told the newspaper. If I m a good community-oriented police officer, I would want to know what it is about the kids that makes them likely to commit offenses. From there I know what to do to plan an intervention.
This technology is gaining popularity nationwide, and where it s in place, police are safer, solutions are focused and citizens are informed.
For more information on crime mapping, or to see what other agencies are doing, visit these online resources:
Crime Mapping News
Mapping and Analysis for Public Safety
Crime Mapping and Analysis Program
International Assoc. of Crime Analysts