Intelligence-led policing (ILP) is on the rise in the United States. Crime and offender statistics play a key role in this law enforcement model, which calls for extensive gathering and analysis of intelligence in a proactive effort to reduce crime.
Since all crime data have a location component, location intelligence is a natural fit for ILP. Utah's Ogden Police Department has integrated location intelligence into its ILP efforts using SpatialKey from Universal Mind, and the department reports operational efficiencies and cost savings as a result.
A proactive approach to fighting crime
In 2007, the Ogden PD received city funding for its first ILP venture - a Crime Reduction Unit. Charged with preventing crimes from happening, the unit's six officers needed constant feeds of up-to-date information so they could find patterns in the times and places that criminal activity occurred.
"About a third of Ogden's crimes and service calls happen in the 'center city' area," said Mike Ashment, commander of the Crime Reduction Unit. "We're tasked with monitoring parolees and probationers there. We do knock-and-talks, keep tabs on known offenders." The unit's officers needed to make better decisions about where to patrol each day. They relied on the department's sole crime analyst and GIS user, David Weloth, to supply them with location analyses and maps. But the process of generating reports from the Versaterm Records Management System (RMS) and ESRI GIS was complicated and time-consuming.
"I would go into the RMS and write a query with a crime type and a date range," Weloth said. "Then I'd unload the data to another computer. I'd open it in Excel to sort and filter. Then I'd take those data and load them into our GIS tool to do analysis and create maps."
Weloth wasn't a GIS expert, so it typically took him a few hours to do a single analysis. And if a report didn't answer all of an officer's questions, he or she would have to go back to Weloth and get in line for a revised report. The process cost time and money. Questions didn't get asked, and information quickly lost its value. Weloth had another challenge: He didn't have an easy way to bring together RMS data and other relevant police intelligence, like parolee Excel files from the state and warrant spreadsheets from the courts. With all of these valuable crime data in separate silos, it was difficult for the team to use them to identify trends.
Visualizing crime patterns for smarter policing
The department adopted their location intelligence software solution in 2008. The software as a service (SaaS) application helped Weloth and the Crime Reduction Unit turn their wealth of data into clear, up-to-date analytics and interactive maps that make it easier to visualize crime patterns and police the streets more effectively.
With the RMS feeding data to SpatialKey automatically via its Data Publisher application, work that formerly took hours can now be done almost instantly. "I go into SpatialKey and do the same type of query I did before," Weloth said. "I select it as a filter, and boom, there it is. I can also compare a dataset to other years or date ranges. And I can do it all in seconds."
With the new workflow, Weloth can turn the department's crime reports, patrol data and intelligence on gangs, warrants and narcotics activity into interactive maps and reports for officers in the field. The design was more user-friendly and enabled commanders to create powerful analytics themselves. "We can upload multiple datasets," Ashment said. "We can plot on a map. We can look at the density of incidents. And we can adjust parameters with a couple of clicks."
He and the team can easily move between different viewpoints like time period, jurisdiction and patrol area or crime type - all in a highly visual environment that makes patterns more readily apparent. "It's one thing to read reports," said Ashment, "but to see something mapped out brings it to life."
The Ogden's Crime Reduction Unit is now looking at more advanced analysis to determine how to stamp out specific offenses. Commander Ashment can summarize data by day of week and time of day. "I can upload a list of known car prowlers and their addresses," he said. "And then I can create a "heatmap" of vehicle burglaries for the past six months. I can see if the data show a pattern. If we see a spike in break-ins between midnight and 3:00 a.m. on Wednesdays in a particular part of town, we can target our resources then and there."
Ashment also reported that the new accessibility of location intelligence has raised accountability with officers. "We're sending the information to the officers on the streets," he said, "so there are no excuses for them not to be hyper-aware of crime patterns and take appropriate action while on patrol."
ROI: Dollars saved and a community made safer
Analyst Weloth said that in a time of reduced municipal budgets, "SpatialKey is delivering a big bang for our buck." Now instead of painstaking hours with the GIS tool, he can create analyses of crime trends and patterns. If more specialized analysis is needed, he can import the reports into his existing GIS tools, which means he's now able to focus on more complex data investigations.
"SpatialKey has changed the way we do policing," said Ogden Police Chief Jon J. Greiner. "We now have commanders and officers getting instant answers to their 'what-if' questions. It makes us smarter cops."