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Agencies in Kentucky share crime data

Written by Tim Burke

Want to catch a thief? Want to catch him before he even hits town? Sound impossible? To do it, you would need to learn ahead of time about “the perp” working your surrounding area. At agencies in northern Kentucky, officers are learning just that. With a click, they are searching for and sharing vital data that is helping them in investigations and arrests. In effect, this helps conclude cases more quickly, safely and cost effectively than ever before.

Erlanger, KY Police Depart-ment’s officers, dispatchers and administrators are sharing information across multiple agencies in a way never before seen so they can perform their jobs more effectively. It’s happening in large part because of a business intelligence platform called WebFOCUS and integration solutions from iWay Software from Information Builders, an independent business intelligence company headquartered in New York City. These systems allow law enforcement personnel across several agencies to share up-to-date information in near real time to assist them in catching more bad guys.

How did all this come about in this northern Kentucky town of about 26,000 residents located 10 miles south of Cincinnati? Steve Castor, director of public safety communications at Erlanger PD, explained, “Local detectives used to meet once a month to review crimes. It took a month to get together and go over cases in the area. This wasn’t effective. Then about three years ago, we started to shorten that time by using the computer and going online. We began initiating crime mapping and trying to link analytics, and that was better. But even so, there was still too much of a gap. Let’s face it, this is dated information the very second you compile it. We needed something faster. We received funding to start looking at ways to do this better. We asked these questions: ‘How can we better exchange information? How can we do it in a timely manner?’ The answer came when we found Information Builders and their software.”

The city of Erlanger has a police force of 45 officers, which handles Erlanger and the city of Crescent Springs. The town is residential with light industry and is situated near the local airport. Officer Castor explained that theft is the most frequent crime they see, and in particular, identity theft is on the rise. “We see a great deal of broken-in vehicles and lots of traffic stops as Interstate Highway 75 runs through the middle of our community,” he said. “We see transient crime. Everyone from Canada to Florida runs through us.”

When the Erlanger Police were given the green light to look around for something that would dramatically improve area communications, they found out about the law enforcement analyst system in use in Richmond, VA. They saw a way to possibly adapt that system and make it work for them. “Information Builders was responsible for the Richmond system,” Castor said. “They help agencies mine key data in real time. What we were about to find out was that public safety agencies all around our area were basically sharing the same criminals.” Erlanger PD was about to implement software tools that would let them put all the data pieces together in a new and powerful way.

WebFOCUS

Kevin Mergruen, vice president at Information Builders, offered some insight into the data-sharing solution. “Erlanger used a communications center that other nearby law enforcement agencies used, as well. Also, the Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission (NKAPC) supported business growth and as far back as the 1980s had started GIS services. Erlanger was able to leverage this.”

His company’s iWay adapters, which served to bring datasources to one point without having to move data, could access NKAPC applications through the Internet. This meant the police agency could get real-time access to crime data, whereas before they didn’t have the budget or the technological resources. Information Builders integrated what Mergruen called an “enterprise search” so an officer in the squad car could look up a partial plate search. “These systems were going to help save costs,” he said.

Three communications centers, Castor said, were located in his general geographic area: one in the city of Covington, one in the Kenton County Police Department, and the third in Erlanger. “We all realize how territorial policing can be, and sometimes police agencies are not that into sharing; however, we overcame that. The system we started using, WebFOCUS Magnify, which combines BI data along with the ability to search, allowed our patrol officers to do investigative-type searches from their cellular-powered displays in their vehicles. We found out right away just how much we had in common.” He said, “Between November 2007 and May 2008, Erlanger merged 10 cities into the Erlanger Public Safety Communications Center.” Those cities were Elsmere, Edgewood, Crescent Springs, Villa Hills, Fort Mitchell, Fort Wright, Park Hills, Ludlow, Crestview Hills and Lakeside Park, plus 10 other emergency services. “

In an age when dollars are tight,” Castor explained, “I asked myself, ‘How do I accomplish more with less?’ WebFOCUS searches our system for crime reports. Not just Erlanger but all agencies that enter data. Patrol level can do research and investigation to locate stolen property and close cases much earlier. The whole process became faster overnight.”

Information Builders technology created the first operational business intelligence system with integrated search capabilities for local law enforcement applications. The new information system put in place in the summer of 2008 at Erlanger combines current crime data from 19 government agencies to link formerly unrelated information about suspects, incidents, arrests and crimes.

“Officers can access data right on the computer in their vehicle or on their PDA,” Mergruen said. “Officers can get reports and maps. This ability answered one of the prime concerns, which was the struggle of law enforcement to know what’s happening in the area and what’s coming at them.”

Mergruen pointed out that this proven technology helped police do a better job. It’s already at work in Erlanger, in Prince George’s County, MD, and in the city of Lansing, MI. Rural and suburban police departments alike might be asking the question that Erlanger once asked such as how to deploy this technology. According to Mergruen, “As long as the data is available, we can make it accessible. We can get that data and use it. Agencies can see what’s going on by type of crime. The iWay software can provide real-time data so you can get all the information from the last transaction. The idea is to get the data into the hands of the right people at the right time.”

Marc Fields, the chief of police at the Erlanger PD, explained how law enforcement agencies in his county operated before coming to this system, each one using its own reporting system. “There was no unified reporting system where all agencies shared information,” he noted. “When we began our project in 2007, we made unified reporting one of our top priorities. We accomplished this, but then were in need of a way to gain access to the historical data of each agency. Also, we were looking for a crime-mapping system to implement. When planning, we budgeted for separate solutions to address these issues. Then we became aware of Information Builders and their WebFOCUS products. This product allowed us to implement one system that addressed both needs and worked well in a mobile environment.”

Today, Fields said, they are able to gain access to data stored in numerous databases, see real-time data, and map these together on one dashboard. “We have seen improved crime solving and better deployment of patrol assets with the use of this product.”

Real-world Scenarios

Officer Castor explained exactly how this sort of technology is making a difference in Erlanger. “Let’s take a patrol officer, call him Officer Able, who is near the end of his shift and receives through his mobile software system a hit-and-run call. A parked car was struck overnight. The officer arrives on the scene and notices red transfer marks. He makes note of it. Officer Able makes some inquiries with neighbors, one who saw a partial license plate of ‘A-B-C’ on a red car seen driving away.” Castor said this type of scenario would not be an unusual example.

Officer Able then proceeds to make notes on what he has learned in his narrative in online reporting done right from his squad car. He updates via his laptop, and his notes go into the digital system, which feed the WebFOCUS server, residing at Area Planning. Castor said, “They have an adapter connected to our sequel database, which is records management, and it updates about every 15 minutes on a 24/7 basis.” Now Officer Able goes on his way, finishing his shift.

Continuing the scenario, a second officer, Officer Baker, now out on his shift, makes a traffic stop. “He notices that the red car he has stopped has damages to the front,” Castor noted. “He looks at the license plate number and punches it in on his laptop. The search engine pulls every instance of an ‘A-B-C’ partial license plate number. Dispatch shows the partial plate, which can go back as far as 10 years.

Officer Baker clicks on the current year and sees the ‘red transfer on vehicle’ notation on the system.” “Officer Baker can now talk to the individual about the facts and, in most cases, get the whole story. In this way, cases can be resolved sooner than ever before,” Castor said. He added that a recent incident involving indecent exposure at a local library and the use of the system in a similar way helped eliminate suspects, saving time and manpower.

Today more than ever before, information is power—a power to better serve the community. “The overall benefit is that more information means greater officer safety. Also, we can have more officers on the road instead of filling out reports. As officers, we react to crimes, but we want to be as proactive as we can. These software tools help tell us where to be. They are identifying where things are happening,” Castor said.

Results

At Erlanger PD, the results of this data-sharing software are positive. Police officers like the “need it now” aspect. Many have bought into it. With the speed of change in technology, it can be overwhelming, especially for veteran officers. But one of the key things Castor would tell another agency looking at the Information Builders’ system is its ease of use and ease of implementation. “Unless you’ve never ‘Googled’ before, you can use it almost immediately,” he said. “Training time even for those who have never searched the Internet before is about 15 minutes. That’s it. We use the Lucerne search engine at Erlanger PD, and we employ a specialized, password-protected system.”

Information Builders has provided innovative solutions to more than 12,000 customers, including numerous U.S. federal governmental agencies. The company’s flagship WebFOCUS product is the world’s most widely used business intelligence platform. The systems are designed for reporting and historical analysis, and the combination provides powerful results. Not only officers, but dispatchers and supervisors at Erlanger PD can view a different slice of the crime data through dashboard at headquarters.

“This is where policing needs to be,” Castor said. “Agencies working hand in hand. I think Sept. 11 taught all of us that lesson: It’s vital for local area agencies to be able to communicate in real time to make the best decisions possible.” “Accomplishing what we want to do,” he added, “needs to be better. This is the way, by sharing information that can help officers serve the community safely and more effectively. This is the future.”

At Erlanger PD, the future has arrived in the form of software tools that allow public safety officers in the area to exchange crime data and solve cases. Law enforcement is catching up to the criminals and the crimes they commit more quickly than ever before. It’s not impossible. So ask yourself: “How quickly are you able to coordinate crime data in your area?” If you want to use these data-sharing software and mapping tools at your agency, the solution will be only a click away.

Tim Burke is a freelance writer who lives outside of Chicago.

Published in Public Safety IT, Jul/Aug 2009

Rating : 8.0


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