USAO’s Eastern District of Pennsylvania Fights Gun Crimes with Technology

By Garnet Daus

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), estimates that in 1999 approximately 10,096 people were murdered by guns in the United States.

Although preliminary data from the FBI's 2002 Uniform Crime Report suggests that overall violent crime decreased 1.4 percent in the 2002, the violent crime rate in the U.S.remains the highest in the industrialized world.

Project Safe Neighborhood
In an effort to control and prevent gun violence, President George W.Bush launched Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) in 2001.This national program establishes a network of law enforcement and community initiatives to prevent gun violence.

As described by Robert Reed, Chief of the Firearms Unit for the USAO, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the purpose of PSN is to "stop violent criminals from using guns and make sure they're punished for using guns."

Part of this program calls for all U.S.Attorneys appointed by the president to implement a gun violence reduction strategy in their districts.Patrick Meehan, the U.S.Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, has taken a proactive approach to the PSN initiative by working to deter gun violence through the development and implementation of the PSN Mapping and Analysis Program (MAP).

PSN MAP is a prototype Web-deployed crime analysis and mapping system that is being developed by GeoDecisions®, an information technology company based in Camp Hill, Pa.It was constructed using ESRI®'s innovative Web Services and cutting-edge .NET technologies.

Figure 1:One of the products of a search is a map that allows users to navigate the area of interest, display attributes of the crime locations, and print the map frame.

PSN MAP collects and archives firearm and homicide data from crimes committed within the USAO's Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which includes Philadelphia, Delaware, Chester, Bucks, Montgomery, Berks, Lehigh, Northampton, and Lancaster Counties.It then provides reporting, analysis, and mapping tools to users through an accessible Web interface.

"We're pleased with what we're experiencing to this point," said Meehan. "I've been very pleased with the buy-in from local police departments. Some of their enthusiasm relates to the real possibilities they see."

In addition to the criminal data the USAO's Eastern District of Pennsylvania already has, PSN MAP draws on a wealth of crime data collected and maintained by the Middle Atlantic-Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network (MAGLOCLEN), a crucial partner in this project.

MAGLOCLEN is one of six intelligence centers in the U.S.that is a member of the Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS) program.RISS operates the only secure Web-based nationwide network for the communication and exchange of criminal intelligence by local, state, federal, and tribal law enforcement agencies.All RISS members have access to, a secure intranet that holds criminal data.

PSN MAP uses the information from as the foundation for generating charts, reports, and maps that are used to deter or investigate crime patterns.

"They [USAO] came to us for our network," said Jim Gallagher, First Deputy Executive Director of MAGLOCLEN. "It holds sensitive, but unclassified information for law enforcement and has all types of databases on it."

How PSN MAP Works
PSN MAP is different from other Web-deployed crime analysis and mapping systems, because it allows local law enforcement to generate cross-jurisdictional analyses and maps on homicides and illegal firearm activity.The program serves as a new kind of portal to the warehouse of crime-related information for an entire region, rather than just one jurisdiction.

Figure 2: The PSN MAP allows users to either fill out a single form that defines the general parameters of their crime search, or users can utilize more complex forms to refine their search.

Instead of local, state, and federal law enforcement offices working independently, PSN MAP enables all agencies to pool their information and resources into one application.This is a direct result of the innovative approach of this project, which relied on fostering partnerships between local, state, and federal law enforcement early in development.

"We recognize criminals don't consider township, county, and state boundaries when they commit crimes," said Meehan.

According to Reed, the USAO's Eastern District of Pennsylvania is taking a proactive approach."We have come up with a system to stop crime before it happens," said Reed.

So far, the USAO's Eastern District of Pennsylvania has solved seven previously unsolved murders as a result of the information that was shared because of the PSN initiative.

The PSN MAP allows users to:

  • upload and geocode homicide and firearm data to a central database
  • use a simple "wizard"-driven interface for searching, analyzing, and displaying homicide and firearms crimes in tables and maps
  • use an identify function to explore information that has been collected throughout a region, pertaining to homicide and firearms crimes
  • summarize homicide and firearm crimes by their spatial and temporal attributes, and display the results.
According to Reed, the USAO's Eastern District of Pennsylvania is taking advantage of all available information to allow investigators and prosecutors to communicate with one another. "We are getting a great database and are being able to prosecute more effectively," said Reed.

Currently, PSN MAP is being assisted by three jurisdictions as pilot agencies: Berks County and the City of Reading, Lehigh County and the City of Allentown, and Delaware County and the City of Chester and the Township of Upper Darby.Meehan is optimistic that all nine counties in the USAO's Eastern District of Pennsylvania will be using PSN MAP by January 2004.

In addition to its use by the USAO's Eastern District of Pennsylvania, PSN MAP is a potential model for other districts throughout the U.S.

"It's our hope to make it [PSN MAP] user friendly and to generate interest in other departments wanting to participate," said Meehan.

By Kevin Switala, director of state and local government
Garnet R.Daus, communications coordinator

Published Thursday, November 6th, 2003

Written by Garnet Daus

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