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Bringing community policing to the Internet
Written by Craig Gooch
Taking community policing to the next level through technology, the Los Angeles Police Department is using the Web to engage the residents and businesses in working to fight crime.
LAPD Chief William Bratton has always been a proponent of using technology to help reach department goals. Upon taking the helm of LAPD in 2002, Bratton recognized a need for an easy-to-use, interactive Web site that would involve residents in creating a safer environment.
In the spring of 2004, Web design firm Lightray was brought in to revamp the department’s Web site. Lightray partnered with Psomas to develop a suite of tailored Web site applications. ePolicing—designed for police by police—was born.
The resulting LAPD Web site, www.lapdonline.org, and the ePolicing tool set are valuable and engaging tools for officers and the community that enhance the department’s ability to reach out and forge relationships. CrimeMaps gives real-time depiction of crime activities neighborhood by neighborhood. InfoShare provides a proactive means of communication between officers and residents in the neighborhoods they patrol. Content-management software organizes the department’s vast amount of Web content into an easy-to-use and useful Web site that provides residents with the latest news and information that LAPD needs to get out to the community.
Residents have a better idea of what the department is doing, and they have more opportunity to assist the police in addressing crime.
Viewing Real-Time Crime Activity
CrimeMaps gives residents a first-hand look at crime trends in their area, encouraging community members to get involved and make their environment safer.
According to the Los Angeles Times, when CrimeMaps was rolled out, “Angelenos can play gumshoe Philip Marlowe and track crime patterns in their neighborhoods and throughout the city, thanks to a new, high-tech initiative from the Los Angeles Police Department.”
The LAPD used to relay crime statistics to the public via COMPSTAT, a spreadsheet familiar to police personnel but not easily interpreted by the average person. In contrast, CrimeMaps links real-time crime data with location, creating a Web site that allows a user to view actual crime activity on a map of his neighborhood, simply by inputting his address.
The full-featured Web-based mapping application combines easy user interface with state-of-the-art online mapping technology. Updated daily, it automatically interfaces with the police department’s crime data records management system. By simply entering a location, residents can retrieve relevant, sortable, and up-to-date crime information going back up to six months. Color-coded dots show types of crime activities; the citizen can specify the radius and the time frame in days, weeks or months.
CrimeMaps is a powerful tool for the public. According to Bratton, “CrimeMaps is consistently one of the most popular features on LAPD’s Web site.”
By viewing crime activity clearly plotted on an area map, users can identify crime patterns and relationships that might not be obvious to them on a COMPSTAT spreadsheet. Keeping the interface simple encourages residents to stay up to date on what is happening in their area.
Although originally developed for LAPD, the application is now in the process of being tailored for police Web sites around the country.
Empowering the Public with the Latest Information
Two-way communication bet-ween the police and the public is critical in providing a safer community. With InfoShare, officers can communicate directly via e-mail with subscribers who live in the areas they patrol.
InfoShare is a community outreach e-mail and list-management application. It allows residents to sign up to be automatically notified with targeted communications relevant to their specific neighborhood and areas of interest. When a user types in an address to check out crime trends in his neighborhood, he can sign up for InfoShare. The sign-up option is also prominent on the home page.
The application is specially designed to group subscribers so they can be e-mailed crime prevention news, crime alerts, event notices and relevant local crime information. Officers in every division receive a growing list of sign-ups that fall within their boundaries.
It is an efficient way to quickly disseminate targeted information to the community. InfoShare allows officers to communicate with one e-mail what used to take a flurry of phone calls. Officers can embed photos of suspects and other visual references to crimes in their e-mails, further empowering the public to help solve crimes.
Officers can send a mass e-mail, manage subscribers and create mail groups of schools, retail establishments, hospitals, etc. They can send mass e-mails via a simple step-by-step process that will not take up much of their precious time. All e-mails go through a vigorous quality control and permissions-based approval system before they are sent out.
A variety of easy-to-use, five-step broadcast templates for crime alerts, newsletters, and safety information come with the application and can be customized if necessary.
The city of Los Angeles carried out an extensive public relations campaign to get the word out on the program with postcards, billboards and proactive outreach by the officers. The popular CrimeMaps page funnels a steady stream of new e-mail signups each day.
“The Los Angeles Police Department has found ePolicing to be very beneficial,” Bratton said. “Through ePolicing, we are able to quickly communicate with members of our communities.”
A Revamped Web Site
In today’s technological age, residents look to the Internet for information, expecting to find it quickly and without hassle. When Bratton came on board, one of his priorities was to revamp the department’s Web site, which was a sprawling 10,000 pages of non-database-driven information.
The first step was to interview department personnel to get a clearer picture of their key issues and strategies. Next came a critical analysis of the existing content. They decided what should be updated most frequently and how to translate the language of the site from typical police jargon to layman terminology. A refined logo and streamlined materials featuring consistent branding were created to carry through all online content. The addition of a blog by Bratton provides a fresh perspective from the chief on the city’s fight against crime. The visual refresh of the Web site was a tremendous success with a 20% increase in visitors.
A critical Web site element not seen by the public is content-management software developed to organize the department’s vast amount of information. The content-management system was designed to be a very easy tool to manage a complex site. It integrates simple administrative tools into the Web site that enable department personnel to manage the site in-house without the need for expensive engineers or an IT department. With some basic training, officers learn to easily update, edit and add new sections using simple five-step templates. News archives are also added using these simple step-by-step templates.
The revamped, easy-to-manage Web site allows the LAPD to get a great deal of timely and useful information out to the public.
Designed for Police by Police
Developed in conjunction with Chief Bratton and LAPD division captains with officers’ direct input included at every step, ePolicing is truly a suite of products designed for police by police. The response from both the officers and community has been overwhelmingly positive. Residents have the benefit of being more informed, and the department is better equipped to provide information to the community. Because the system is uncomplicated, easy to use and can be maintained with a minimal staff, ePolicing has been an asset to officers in performing their jobs.
Today, after more than two years of thorough, intensive development and testing with LAPD, ePolicing is on its way to being rolled out to more cities across the country. Other departments, such as Savanna / Chatham, GA and San Francisco, have acquired ePolicing CrimeMaps and InfoShare to enhance public involvement in community policing activities. ePolicing’s innovative applications have given officers in Los Angeles a distinct advantage in reaching their goal of effective community policing by engaging the citizenry.
Craig Gooch leads the Information Technology Consulting Team at Psomas. He provides consulting services supporting development and integration of information systems including GIS. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.epolicing.com.
Published in Public Safety IT, Nov/Dec 2008
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