Portland Police Bureau Makes Geospatial Widely Accessible

By Nora Parker

The Portland Police Bureau (Portland, Oregon) has been involved with geospatial analytics for about 17 years. Christy Khalifa, a Portland police crime analyst, has worked with the program for about two and a half years, though the Bureau has had geospatial tools for much longer. "We're pretty progressive as far as getting into new technology," she said. Indeed. The Bureau's Strategic Services Division, of which she is a member, developed, along with the Bureau of Technology Services, a public-facing Web-based CrimeMapper application that gets about 1.8 million hits a year. It's the second most popular service offered on the city's Portland Online site. The purpose of the application is to answer the public's questions about the safety of specific neighborhoods and the types of crimes that occur there.

"I love being able to put information like that out to the public because you can put so much information at their fingertips," explained Khalifa. It's fairly common for police departments to make this information available to the public, but not many offer information in a form as interactive as Portland's application, explained Khalifa. I played with the site and was impressed by how many different options and ways to look at data were available to public citizens. (A state-by-state listing of jurisdictions involved in "Crime Mapping" is available at the National Institute of Justice's site.)

Figure 1. I made this overview map using CrimeMapper on the Portland Police Bureau's site. Using half-mile grids, this general overview shows the prevalence of crime in this area. (I entered the address 1211 SW 5TH AVE. Unfamiliar with Portland, I just picked the address given as an example on the site.) (Click for larger image)

Figure 2. This map of the same location shows Part I crimes (a standard crime category used by all police departments) for the previous year. Note the chart at the bottom which shows the number of each Part I crime. Part II crimes are also available on separate maps and charts. You can click on a category to see a map of instances of that crime in particular, plus another chart indicating when crimes are taking place by month, day of week or time of day. Also provided is a drill-down list of every single instance of that crime, sortable by crime type, date or distance from the address originally entered. (Click for larger image)

Khalifa's background is in criminology and criminal justice, not GIS, and she admitted that some of the terminology still makes her a little nervous. Nevertheless, she's been successful with the Bureau's Arc-based product installation and the applications the GIS group at the Bureau created on top of it. The City of Portland has a GIS team that assisted them with set-up. Khalifa, two other analysts at the Bureau, and four analysts who work in individual precincts have become highly proficient with the tools.

As a graduate student, Khalifa attended neighborhood police meetings as part of the Portland State University's criminology program. There she saw the maps "in action." Now, when she trains officers in the use of the maps and the data access her group provides, they are less interested in the actual training because they want to dive right into the data and start analyzing.

The Crime Analysis Mapping Information Network (CAMIN) is the key application for crime analysts. The CAMIN application allows the analysts to access data on calls for service, arrests and offenses, etc. CrimeMapper is one of these applications. Another is CrimeStats, launched in December 2007, which is a neighborhood-based application for precinct officers and the public. CrimeStats aggregates crime statistics by neighborhoods, crime fighting coalition areas, precincts or larger city areas. The new Freeway Mapping Project allows analysis of calls for service along freeways, but because there aren't addresses along freeways, special geocoding was required. Standard mile markers were used, the coordinates for which were imported from the Oregon Department of Transportation database. The Bureau collected coordinates for half-mile points and for "landmarks" such as on and off ramps.

One analyst put together a series of PDFs that map a 1,000 foot buffer around every school's tax parcel (i.e. "legal") boundary. Crimes within these areas have enhanced penalties, and it's helpful to have maps available that quickly and easily show that zone.

Figure 3. An example of a section of one of the "1000 Feet Buffer School Maps." (Click for larger image)
According to Khalifa, there is no staff resistance to using the spatial crime analysis tools. She said the next big push for the Bureau is to make Internet access available in squad cars. Once that happens, she expects that police officers' use of the tools will grow significantly, as they'll be able to explore maps and data between calls.

In 2006, Khalifa's unit received a commendation award from Portland's mayor and chief of police. She recalled it as a proud moment. "We were approached by an arson investigator," she explained. "He gave us the address, time and dates of the arsons, and asked for a map to brief the people working the case. We made the map, and we also predicted where the next arson was going to happen. They caught this person starting a fire in a dumpster." The unit also provides maps, using the CAMIN application, for detectives who need them for juries. It is very helpful for members of a jury to be able to see the crime patterns, Khalifa said. She has gotten quite a bit of feedback about how successful her group has been in helping to win cases, which is icing on the cake of a job that offers a lot of satisfaction.

Published Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

Written by Nora Parker

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