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Fighting crime with intelligence

Written by Kevin Mergruen

In Richmond, Va., police deployed officers in areas with high past New Year’s Eve crime rates, cutting gunfire incidents by 49 percent and increasing weapons seized by 246 percent. This was accomplished with a third of the officers typically used and led to a savings of $15,000 in overtime for that one night.

In Houston, Texas, an analyst monitoring 9-1-1 calls spotted information about a car on the scene of a Family Dollar Store robbery, one of a recent spate of such robberies. Using partial plates and a brief description, he found the car had previously been charged with moving violations and that the driver wasn’t the registered owner and didn’t live where the vehicle was registered. The analyst found the driver’s address and got it to the officer, who went there immediately and arrested the suspect—solving the series of robberies in under an hour.

In Erlanger, Ky., an officer in the field quickly solved an indecent exposure call from his car by searching past records. On another occasion, when a burglary occurred in a neighboring community close to the city boundary, supervisors immediately knew and sent units to patrol the area, potentially preventing further thefts—without having to add personnel and raise taxes.

These are just some of the stories police in these cities tell about what they are accomplishing with business intelligence technology that provides decision-makers with a 360-degree view of crime and enables them to solve and prevent crime quickly and effectively while containing costs, including reducing overtime.

Predictive Analytics

Seasoned police officers know that weather affects crime. In Richmond, Va., though, even the greenest officer can know exactly how it affects the city’s crime patterns and can respond accordingly. In 2004, Richmond, population 220,000, was ranked the fifth most dangerous city in the United States. The police department implemented a new information system for predicting crime and reduced its violent crime rate by double digits two years in a row. In its first year, the system significantly reduced incident rates of murder (32 percent), rape (20 percent), robbery (3 percent), aggravated assault (18 percent), burglary (18 percent) and auto theft (13 percent). All major crime rates have continued to drop consistently, with homicides dropping by 42 percent and commercial robberies dropping by 45 percent in 2008.

The system, which won Gartner’s 2007 BI Excellence Award, provides a sophisticated data model of criminal activity using elements defined by the Richmond police to predict future criminal behavior. The entire department has easy access to predictive crime analysis, data-mining to correlate past and present data, reporting, and GIS capabilities to view specific types of crime for a given area and perform crime mapping and analysis.

Richmond PD worked with Information Builders for integration, analytics and reporting; with ESRI® for dynamic mapping display; and with Pictometry International Corp. for detailed pictures and dynamic geographical displays of locations and surrounding neighborhoods for reported incidents. They also worked with analytical software vendor SPSS Inc., an IBM company, for data-mining capabilities.

Crime analysts can now correlate present and past data back to five years, analyzing arrest records, motive, and type of crime at a particular location based on the day, time, weather, moon phases, pay days, holidays and city events. Analysts found, for instance, that certain property crimes were better indicators of likely sexual assaults than the presence of convicted sex offenders.

Richmond PD uses this insight to optimize police resources to deter crime. Officers receive the most up-to-date information available, along with a screen of predictions of crime hot spots they can access before a shift. For example, a high rate of robberies occurred on paydays in Hispanic neighborhoods, where fewer people use banks and where customers leaving check-cashing stores were easy targets. Elsewhere, clusters of random-gunfire incidents occurred at certain times of night. To protect these neighborhoods, extra police were deployed when and where incidents were predicted.

Real-Time Crime Center

Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States, has a population of 2.2 million with 5,200 police officers patrolling its 700 square miles. With information as dispersed as its population, the Houston Police Department (HPD) needed a single version of the truth and fast, secure, simple access to accurate, useful data. It met the challenge with a real-time crime center built in less than three months using Information Builder’s business intelligence and enterprise integration solutions for report writing and data access via a dashboard and ESRI for GIS mapping.

Awarded a Vision Award for Business Impact in the category of “Advanced Business Intelligence” by BeyeNETWORK, HPD’s crime center provides real-time data analysis on more than 15 years’ worth of information and quickly disseminates it to the field, focusing the whole organization on its core mission of fighting crime. The system is improving police procedures and officer and community safety, reducing the time to solve crimes, enabling better deployment of officers to hot spots, and using overtime more efficiently.

HPD tied analytics associated with crimes to incident locations, providing insights into specific incidents and trends. For example, those dealing with a crime scene can analyze all the statistics around the area, looking at what has happened within a time frame and even seeing parolees and sex offenders in the area. Users can also zoom in on a neighborhood, block or street, and see houses, cars, yards and fields.

In addition, crime center analysts have real-time access to Houston 9-1-1 calls, where they watch on a rolling screen as calls and messages go between the dispatcher and the car. Analysts work 24/7 analyzing data, generating reports on the fly, and providing information to officers in the field. Recently, for example, the emergency center received a disturbance call, and while the officers were being dispatched to the scene, analysts ran the name, found out the man creating the disturbance was a fugitive, and alerted the officers, who arrived at the scene knowing he was a fugitive and arrested him.

Every manager has access to KPIs and performs analysis. At weekly meetings, the chief, for instance, can ask how many armed robberies happened compared to the previous month in a specific division and access statistics immediately. These meetings are PowerPoint-free, with commanders productively collaborating on strategies and immediately accessing all relevant data.

Integrated, Real-Time Search

As part of the Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky metropolitan region, the Erlanger, Ky., Police Department coordinates with police and fire departments in more than a dozen communities. Recently, the community experienced a 5–10 percent annual increase in calls, stretching police resources to the limit.

To better serve its 17,000 residents with a 45-member force, Erlanger PD created a new real-time information system with integrated search capabilities. The new system enables law enforcement personnel in 10 adjacent police agencies throughout Northern Kentucky, including 150 patrol officers, to share up-to-date information from 19 government agencies. The system combines current crime data from the agencies, linking formerly unrelated information about suspects, incidents, arrests and crimes. It also merges current data with crime records and incident reports stretching back more than five years.

Accessed through a simple Web-based portal interface, the new system provides police with real-time views of incidents, arrests, 9-1-1 calls and other events throughout the dispatch area. Erlanger PD worked with Information Builders, using its WebFOCUS software and ESRI’s geographic information system (GIS) software to create this interactive, real-time crime portal in less than three months.

All cities and agencies connected to the system input their respective Records Management Systems (RMS). Officers can also enter notes into the system directly from the field. Integration technology updates the search index every 15 minutes with crime records from Erlanger’s computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system and RMS. Users search both dynamic BI content and structured and unstructured data sources through the universally known Google search paradigm. By using simple keyword searches, they can locate key facts and then follow links to execute reports and access information in the format of their choice, including Excel, PDF, HTML or XML. With this capability, even if they don’t know exactly what they are looking for or where it is stored, officers can find what they need via a Web browser.

Now it is much easier to detect patterns quickly. In the past, for example, a string of burglaries involving iron and steel became widespread throughout the county without individual police departments recognizing the pattern until some stolen goods showed up at a recycling center. Today, as soon as an officer enters a keyword such as “metal” or “iron” into the search index, all the related incidents would be linked in a one-page report, making the pattern readily apparent.

The system makes getting data practically instantaneous and delivers information in appropriate ways for each audience, generating real-time search results for police officers in the field and delivering KPIs for supervisors at headquarters. Patrol officers access the system via a browser-based application on the Mobile Data Computer (MDC) in their vehicles. For example, if an officer stops a speeding car and performs a quick license plate search, the system could display a police report from earlier in the day in a neighboring city involving a hit-and-run incident, even if the witness at the scene only got part of the license plate number. A suspect in two crimes could be apprehended through a small piece of shared data.

Dispatchers and supervisors can view a different slice of crime data through dashboards at headquarters that display and drill down into KPIs, including crime activity by city, current crime alerts, and a summary of arrests and incidents sorted by categories (such as arson, assault, burglary and criminal mischief). The new crime portal gives supervisors much more power to prevent or quickly solve crimes by efficiently deploying the police force based on patterns that become apparent when records are accessible and grouped in meaningful ways.

Proactive, Predictive, Intelligence-Led Law Enforcement

The Richmond, Houston and Erlanger Police Departments faced a situation common to many police departments: data from different systems—and sometimes other law enforcement agencies—not talking to one another and being difficult and time-consuming—if not impossible—to access. All three departments built customized solutions using off-the-shelf components in a short time to put accurate, timely, targeted information in the hands of decision-makers—from the police chief to dispatchers to officers in the field. Most importantly, by making their processes more efficient and effective with intelligence-led policing, all three saw immediate and continuing results that help them make their communities better places to live. ¦ Kevin Mergruen is Information Builders’ vice president of corporate sales for business intelligence products.

Published in Public Safety IT, Jul/Aug 2010

Rating : 9.8


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