Big Data and the Bigger Picture

November 14, 2019 by Dana Rasmussen

Q&A with Data Insights and Analytics Manager Jeremy Summers

Big Data and the Bigger Picture

In public safety agencies, data is created every minute of the day. This data comes in the form of tickets issued, reports taken, arrests made, calls for service processed, fire emergencies, and dozens of other elements that involve dispatch, law enforcement, and fire and EMS agencies.

In this expert interview, find out how agencies can do more with their data and make communities safer.

Why is it so important for public safety agencies to access and utilize their data?

There’s an astronomical amount of data in law enforcement agencies, fire and EMS departments, and 911 dispatcher centers, but accessing it can be difficult.

All public safety agencies need to access their data quickly and efficiently to provide information for mandated reports on crime trends, arrests, and calls for service. Agencies also need to be able to retrieve relevant – and accurate – information during budgeting processes that require informational awareness on how the department is responding to crimes and in what areas.

When crime is growing in particular areas, for example, command staff needs to able to address the root cause by first understanding all the details of when, where, why, and how. If the members of these departments don’t have easy and efficient access to this data, it can make answering these types of questions extremely difficult or, at times, even impossible.

What are the sources of public safety data?

In public safety agencies, data could come from literally anywhere. Officers’ daily activities vary, as does the data they collect. One minute, they may be working a simple call for service, collecting location, subject information, situational information, and even narrative. The next moment, they may be making a traffic stop and issuing citations with even more information. After this, they may work on creating a case file on a recent crime. There is just a massive amount of data that flows in every single day.

What can agencies do to access their data?

Agencies spend so much time each day inputting data. They shouldn’t have to spend the same amount of time pulling it back out.

Thankfully, there are brand-new analytic tools that almost anyone in a public safety agency can use. That means from the patrol cop working a beat, to the crime analyst in the department, or even a battalion chief or police chief in a city hall meeting, they can each get into the system and enter a query.

These analytic tools effortlessly process and analyze the data, providing the user with new, valuable, and actionable insights.

What role do analytic tools play in public safety agencies in terms of accessing data?

It’s vitally important for a public safety agency to have a system that not only articulates data from dispatch or records solutions but conveys the context, or story, behind that data from multiple sources at one time. Agencies need a system that can pull records from cases and tickets and, simultaneously, pull local 911 calls and arrests for the same area. Aggregating multiple layers of data allows the user to tell the story of what is really occurring. Having only one piece of data tells only a part of the story.

For example, if a user can only access accident information, that might be great in a small context. What, however, is the bigger picture? By connecting this data with relevant ticket information from the same time, the user can now see a more complete story.

Are traffic accidents decreasing because of greater officer enforcement in an area, or are those officers actually exacerbating the problem? By layering multiple data sets, the department can create smarter, more detailed plans to reduce accident numbers.

Analytic solutions take public safety data and articulate it so that leaders can make better resource allocation decisions. These solutions tell agencies not only where things are happening, but when they’re happening, and compare that information against any other data set, all at the same time. That means if a community is experiencing numerous break ins in one area, the analytic tool can help officers dig deeper into incident detail down to the most prevalent day of the week and even time of the day. This, along with instant location information, also allows for a much better response plan.

When a system can automatically extrapolate this data, it amplifies the efficiency and impact of agency resources. When agencies have a tool that can analyze all relevant data in a matter of seconds, (rather than hours or days), it illuminates hotspots and drives effective resource deployment.

This smarter resource allocation not only benefits the agency, it keeps the community safer and makes citizens happier. Plus, it vastly improves workflow without adding more resources.

How do analytic tools benefit individual users, like a crime analyst?

This is a great question and probably one of my favorites to answer.

Some departments have a crime analyst specifically trained to get intelligence and figure out what’s happening in a community. Unfortunately, in many departments around the country today, these highly trained and skilled intelligence officers and analysts are spending all of their time doing simple calculations and preparing PowerPoint presentations. They're spending time answering how much crime went up in this neighborhood or went down in that beat, which can be very time consuming.

The problem with this is obvious: The officer is now busy spending his or her time on basic analytical questions instead of spending time truly gathering intelligence and assisting the department in reducing overall community issues.

That’s why it’s important to use an analytic tool that automates basic analysis. It finds hotspots. It finds trends by time of day and day of week. It can even monitor agency tactics to see if specific efforts are truly helping the agency and community, or if strategy adjustments are needed. By handling all of these jobs, the analyst’s time is freed up for higher-level strategic tasks that can really move the needle on community safety.

For the agencies without analysts, the benefit is even greater. They now have a digital virtual analyst who never sleeps and never takes breaks; one that is always available to them 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

In what ways do analytic tools helps agencies improve transparency?

The importance of data does not stop within the walls of the police or fire department. This data is important to the public as well. What many public safety agencies are experiencing now is a requirement – not just a request –for increased transparency.

It’s important for citizens to feel a partnership between themselves and the public safety agencies that serve them. Feeling that everything is hidden and not knowing what’s going on around them breeds mistrust. Agencies must get information out to residents on what calls for service are happening, when they're happening, and where they’re happening.

For this reason, it has become important for departments to have a tool that can make this data ready for public consumption. Without the tools, departments can spend countless hours trying to get data out to residents. Many have daily backlogs of public information requests. This causes agencies to spend countless work hours reviewing documents and preparing data for the public.

That’s yet another place where analytic tools shine. They allow agencies to decide exactly what information goes out (automatically) as well as what shouldn’t go out (items with sensitive or protected data). All of this information is available on a public-facing website.

With this newfound automation, residents now have a way to gather much of the information they require, on their own. This frees up staff time to work on other, more important matters. With this new technology, citizens can even opt in to receive automatic alerts about public safety incidents happening in any given area.

Plus, agencies can control exactly what (and how) data flows out. Departments can, for example, protect unique address information by automatically “blockizing” every location. They can decide what call types are included, and which ones should stay protected. They can even control when the site is updated. All this ensures officer safety while empowering citizens with information on exactly what a department is doing each day. It’s a real game changer.

In what ways do analytic tools keep officers safer?

Analytic tools help keep officers safer in the field in a variety of ways. For instance, when an officer can determine —from the moment they sign on for his or her shift — where more arrests or accidents are occurring, or maybe even all of the burglary cases from the shift before, they can analyze that data and gain better situational awareness. They can see if an issue is happening in their zone or beat, and understand more of what is occurring around them, which improves their overall safety.

For example, when an analytic tool allows users to set customizable alerts for burglaries, violent crimes, or anything of that nature, they know exactly what’s happening in their beat or jurisdiction, which improves their situational awareness and overall safety. In addition, these tools can continuously monitor these custom alerts, so users are equipped with insights that make themselves and their communities safer, all in near-real time.

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