Lancaster City Police Take a Bite Out of Crime®

By Garnet Daus

Revolutionary new GIS technology will help Lancaster City and Township analyze and prevent crime.

Take a bite out of crime®.This phrase, which was made famous by McGruff® the Crime Dog in 1980, started a revolution in the which citizens began taking crime prevention into their own hands.That trend continues today in Lancaster, Pa., where the community has taken a more organized approach to preventing crime.

Crime Commission
Under the direction of Mayor Charles Smithgall, the Lancaster Crime Commission was created in August 2000.It works to improve the quality of life in Lancaster, specifically relating to crime control and prevention. The group consists of community members, elected and appointed public servants, and law enforcement officials.

The Commission's 2003 Crime Report suggested that the Lancaster Bureau of Police employ new crime fighting and public safety technologies.Following this advice, the Lancaster City Police Department implemented GeoCAMS in May of this year.

GeoCAMS stands for the GeoDecisions® Crime Analysis and Mapping System.It is the flagship law enforcement product of GeoDecisions, an information technology company based in Camp Hill, Pa.

Figure 1: Query Form-Simple form that allows users to search for crime patterns.(click for larger image)

Using geographic information system (GIS) technology, this flexible application enables law enforcement personnel to search for, map, and analyze incident and intelligence data, as well as generate deployment plans for Lancaster Township and the City of Lancaster.GeoCAMS was created using ESRI®'s MapObjects 2.0, Visual Basic® 6.0, and Access 2000 technology.

Figure 2: Temporal Analysis-GeoCAMS provides automated time charting to discover patterns.(click for larger image)

GeoCAMS consists of two toolsets.The first allows a user to fill out a very simple crime search form that, once executed, allows them to see what crime occurred and where and when it took place.The second enables users to create a tactical deployment plan, by quickly placing symbols on a map, which helps to coordinate responding law enforcement personnel that are close to the scene of the incident.

Figure 3: Correlation Analysis-Crime locations can be correlated to other locations, such as bars, convenience stores, parking lots, etc. (click for larger image)

"We're already using it [GeoCAMS] to look at crime trends, especially quality of life," said Lancaster City Police Chief William Heim."We're really impressed with the ease of using GeoCAMS.One of the things that separates this crime analysis mapping program [from others] is that patrol officers and detectives can use it to develop strategies to prevent and solve crimes.They don't need assistance from a special unit.It's very user friendly," Chief Heim said.

According to Chief Heim, Lancaster City Police officers are in charge of monitoring crime in different areas of the City and Township.By mapping out crimes, such as disorderly conduct and noise ordinance violations, GeoCAMS will enable law enforcement personnel to recognize crime trends and patterns.

"It presents the actual information concerning all of the crimes you're looking to map," said Chief Heim.This information can then be used to analyze old crimes and forecast future crimes.

While most software requires an organization (Lancaster City Bureau of Police) to change its operations to implement such a program, GeoCAMS does not.Instead, the software includes a custom translation application that connects GeoDecisions' mapping system to Lancaster City's database. The mapping application is then customized to the needs of the patrol and command staff.This is another significant, long-term cost benefit.

Figure 4: Tactical Deployment-GeoCAMS provides graphic tools that allow command staff to quickly develop tactical deployment strategies. (click for larger image)

In addition to these advantages, GeoCAMS is relatively easy to use. Each officer, who obtains training, is taught an introductory GIS-mapping lesson.GeoDecisions also provided four-hour, on-site training sessions to the Bureau for each potential user of GeoCAMS.

"After a few hours of training, any employee can learn to operate the system," Chief Heim said.

As for the future of GeoCAMS and it's capabilities, the possibilities are endless.In addition to developing a GIS solution to enhance Lancaster City's police programs and activities, GeoCAMS next function will be to provide the foundation for the future expansion of a system to be used by all of the City's emergency management personnel.

Because GeoCAMS can be utilized in conjunction with Web-based applications, it can simultaneously provide information to multiple parties in different locations, such as police, fire, and emergency medical personnel.The information is communicated instantaneously via facsimile or e-mail.

"This will enable us to manage high-risk emergencies efficiently. We will be able to get crucial information to our officers in a more timely and accurate manner," Chief Heim said.There is no doubt this new technology will greatly improve Lancaster City and Township's response to criminal activities and emergency situations.

Kevin Switala, director of state and local government
Garnet R.Daus, communications coordinator
P.O.Box 67100, Harrisburg, PA 17106-7100

Published Tuesday, July 29th, 2003

Written by Garnet Daus

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