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Intelligence mapping solutions from Pitney Bowes
Pitney Bowes Business Insight (PBBI) geospatial software is being used for an increasing number of public safety applications according to Moshe Binyamin, the company’s global product manager. The PBBI technology focus is on location enablement of tabular data, which provides public safety agencies with different ways of looking at key information as well as tools to analyze trends and patterns. When posted on a Web site, the information provides citizens with local crime statistics, such as location and frequency. A global provider of data quality and location intelligence solutions, PBBI’s goal in developing this technology is two-fold: to make the technology easy to use and affordable.
“Public safety requires a lot of location-relevant data, and that data can arrive from a variety of sources,” Binyamin said. While the basic technology has been around for 15 years, he explained, the accuracy of the data has increased significantly in recent years. Furthermore, due to increased affordability, public safety agencies are now better able to provide services that, until recently, only the most financially well-off cities and counties could afford.
In developing and offering this technology, PBBI looks at the many functions a public safety agency needs to perform. Binyamin said two essential needs must be met: Accountability: Citizens must be informed of public safety services and what is happening within their communities, crime-wise; and Internal operations/analysis: It is critical that new systems help crime analysts (or those planning logistics) determine how, when and where to deploy resources, especially in today’s economic environment where resources are stretched.
The following case studies illustrate the practical use of this technology in which non-GIS trained people have been able to take advantage of location intelligence. These organizations have adopted geographic capabilities and used predictive mapping to achieve their goals.
The town of Cary, NC, uses PBBI MapInfo location intelligence solutions to power its interactive crime statistics Web site. The crime map section at Maps Online allows citizens to view the types and locations of crimes that have occurred across the entire town. The section was developed with MapXtreme® software, which enables current and prospective residents to get instant access to recent and historical crime data in a visual format.
Located adjacent to Raleigh and the Research Triangle Park, Cary developed the crime map section at Maps Online to reduce the time spent completing crime map requests and to offer crime data requests in real time. The interactive site enables visitors to enter a specific address and request information on crimes occurring within a one-mile radius of that location in the past year. The virtual map then displays icons for each of the 21 types of crimes documented, including categories for burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft. The site also offers various search functions, allowing users to find crime information for specific dates within the last year.
Jennifer Morgan, crime analyst for Cary’s Police Department, said the crime map site is an effective communications tool for sharing data with current and future residents. From determining which neighborhood is safest, to learning about what crimes have occurred near schools in a certain area, residents have immediate access to information that directly impacts their lives.
“Before the creation of our Internet crime mapping application using MapInfo, crime analysts in Cary had to field numerous requests for crime reports, which required querying data and running an ad hoc report for each request,” Morgan explained. “Now the analysts upload raw data once a week to the Internet crime mapping application, and citizens can customize the crime information they receive based on their needs. This allows crime analysts to devote more time to other projects.”
According to Morgan, in the past, it was hard to explain to citizens what geographic area each crime report encompassed because the agency could not query the data by one-mile radii and had to use geographic regions the public was unfamiliar with. “Now citizens can not only customize their crime information on the Web, but they also have a view of where crimes are in relation to the area they are querying,” she said. “Also, they have 24/7 access to crime information to view what is going on in their neighborhoods, rather than waiting for someone in the office to fill a crime report request.” Mike Mull, the applications manager of technology services, offered this example of how the system has helped: “One Cary resident called and asked about burglary occurrences going on in the immediate vicinity of her home. I pointed her to the Internet crime mapping application, and she was able to see that only a couple of burglaries had occurred nearby. She was pleased to receive the information and to know that she could regularly check for crime activity in her area by using this application.”
Morgan said this type of technology will help other public safety agencies in the future because they will be able to use it to alert citizens to criminal activity going on in their neighborhoods. It will also give officers up-to-date spatial information about crimes occurring on their patrol beats. “Heightened citizen awareness (of crimes in their areas) will facilitate a partnership between the community and law enforcement officers to detect and deter crimes,” she said. Another positive result is that officers reviewing data through the mapping application can see the locations of crime patterns and criminal activity concentrations and can thereby make informed decisions about what areas need to be saturated by police presence.
The use of predictive crime analysis by the Toronto Police offers another example of how PBBI technology can help improve public safety. A sex offender had been targeting children at area schools for over a year; unfortunately, the police had little luck identifying and locating the individual. However, by using location intelligence solutions in the agency’s geographic information systems (GIS) and geographic profiling analysis application, Detective Constable Manny San Pedro was able to formulate crime pattern graphs to show the sex offender’s anchor points as well as predictive analysis to identify where and when the offender would strike again.
San Pedro developed a target area for investigators. For example, after adding the locations of the local schools in the area, selecting a five-minute walking buffer for children traveling to and from school, and layering in the days and times a suspicious van had been spotted, the location intelligence map narrowed down the probability of where the individual might appear again.
The geographic analysis report was shared with Sex Crimes Unit investigators and tactical teams from two police divisions working on the case. By getting rid of the peripheral information and processing the critical information in multiple formats, San Pedro and the analysis team identified common trends and patterns that may not have stood out using traditional tabular analysis. Armed with predictive crime analysis maps, the police set up in locations where the suspect would likely return. Within 33 minutes of targeting the focus areas, the suspicious van appeared and the suspect was arrested.
The Toronto Police have been using GIS solutions since the early 1990s to plot crime locations for preventive analysis. Two years ago, the agency began to leverage location intelligence methods. As a result, they can make better decisions on where to deploy their resources and ultimately map out a criminal’s next move. San Pedro said the PBBI technology has helped the Toronto Police solve its problems on a number of levels, one being the geo-coding of location data, and another being the ability to connect with the geo-coded records and visualize the crime information via a Web-enabled application. “There is some built-in analytical functionality that allows us to perform selections based on drive-time and drive-distance,” he explained. “We are also able to conduct statistical analysis based on user-defined areas such as communities and neighborhoods thanks to the geo-coded data. In addition, the spatial technology gives us the ability to conduct hotspot analysis and tactical crime series forecasting.” San Pedro believes that spatial technology is the way of the future. “Mapping crime locations and subsequently basing patrol deployment on the analysis of these locations is essentially what intelligence-led policing is about.”
Cumberland County, NC
The success story played out at the Cumberland County, NC Police Department illustrates how innovative use of PBBI technology can keep citizens better informed about housing issues while also improving E9-1-1 service. By integrating local data sets into the PBBI mapping solution, realtors can select a parcel of land by address, lot number or by simply clicking on a map to see all proposed transportation projects within 1,000 feet of a specific property.
Prior to implementing the online mapping solution, County Location Services staff received an average of 1,500 monthly phone inquires. Since launching the site powered by PBBI, the number of phone calls from the general public has decreased by 70%. When a land developer is building a new subdivision in the area, Mike Osbourn, E9-1-1 planning coordinator for Cumberland County, and his team must ensure that all street names are correct and then assign numbers to each lot. Before intelligent mapping became a reality, the department had 26 file cabinets full of maps dating back to the late 1940s. “We scanned all these documents and geo-referenced them,” he explained. “Now you can click on a map, which opens into a PDF document showing you all the addresses. That process has been simplified.”
By integrating multiple data sets, Cumberland County is also able to enhance its E9-1-1 services. Using the PBBI application results in a quicker, more accurate response to citizens and plays a crucial role in emergency management. All the information is contained on the county’s Web site and is communicated via an e-mail notification system, which saves time across various departments.
What Osbourn finds interesting is the way back-end data has evolved over the years. “When I first started, all map information was proprietary,” he explained. “You had to use certain mapping software to access that data.” Capabilities today are evolving into back-end databases, he said. For example, Microsoft SQL server 2008 stores mapping data, which allows an expansion of capabilities.
“Over the past six years, we’ve been able to use spatial functions inside the database that used to require a GIS map interface,” he said. “That simplifies much of the entry and analysis of our information. So, when we store a new address, that record is automatically assigned the correct code for what region it falls in based on spatial functions inside the database.” This eliminates the need for mapping applications to update the data. In some cases, he explained, entry of information can be form-based and used to create mapping data edits. This not only simplifies data entry and editing, it also reduces the need for multiple copies of mapping software to edit or enter information.
“Being able to view geographically gives you a completely different viewpoint,” Osbourn said. “Most phone companies use databases (not geographically enabled), which are challenging to display in a mapping environment.” As an example, he points to looking at numerous addresses via an Excel file as opposed to a color-coded map. Cumberland County has been using this mapping solution for the past six years. “The system has helped us a great deal,” Osbourn said.
Neal Lorenzi is a freelance writer and editor who has 20 years of experience covering a variety of industries, including printing, mining, plant maintenance and occupational safety and health. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in Public Safety IT, Nov/Dec 2009
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