Data-Driven Policing, Safer Communities

December 09, 2019 by Meredith Trimble

Data-Driven Policing, Safer Communities

Just as all of us are connected to an unprecedented amount of information at our fingertips through our computers, tablets, and smartphones, police officers and first responders also have unprecedented access to data.

Public safety agencies that find new ways to access this data and make use of it will not only keep officers more informed and safer, they’ll improve law enforcement overall through greater efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency. Through modern technology, public safety agencies can take the following three steps to inform smarter strategic decisions and strengthen community bonds.

1. Arm Citizens with Community Data

Access to incident data increases transparency and builds trust with the community. “I was a records manager for a couple of years with my department,” said Capt. Adam Geissenberger of the Pinellas Park, FL, PD, “and a decent amount of time was committed to answering citizen phone calls or emails requesting information like, ‘I’m moving to Pinellas Park, here’s the address. Could you tell me about crime there?’ I had to stop, I had to download the data, I had to interpret the data, and I had to make sure the information I was releasing was permitted to be released per public record law.”

This time-consuming process also left the requestor with information that was out of date by the time it was released. To combat these challenges, the department implemented a citizen portal that enables residents to look up near real-time information on their own. Through the portal, residents can navigate around an interactive crime map to see down to the block level where an incident occurred, as well as date, time, and type. Pin views show whether the number of incidents in an area has increased or decreased.

When residents fully understand what incidents are occurring in which areas, they can respond to facts rather than speculation. This helps avoid social media-fueled rumors that can stoke unnecessary fear. Alternately, the portal keeps residents aware of a spike in incidents like burglaries so they can keep an eye out for suspicious activity and, in turn, assist police by reporting it.

2. Use Data Analytics to Reduce Crime

For more than a decade there have been software tools that can produce raw data files from computer-aided dispatch, records management systems, and crime databases. But the challenge has been in making sense of the raw data in real time and making it actionable so the right resources are deployed at the right times to reduce crime.

The Pinellas Park PD implemented Law Enforcement Analytics, part of the same, cloud-based solution that hosts the citizen portal. The tool helps the department answer real questions about what’s occurring, where it’s occurring, and when, in addition to whether police efforts are working in those areas.

Staff, for example, geofenced an area with a concentration of low-budget motels that had seen an increase in drug-related overdoses. Officers activated a buffer on the analytics portion of the map, which allowed them to eliminate everything outside of it and only focus on a relevant area. With just a click of a button, they could easily identify times of day, days of the week, and the locations that showed when and where overdoses were occurring most. Focusing traffic patrol operations in those specific areas was an actionable way to intercept drivers leaving suspicious facilities.

The department’s crime prevention team also used the information to communicate with management at involved properties to make sure they were following best practices and not renting rooms to people who lived down the street but were using the motels as a base of operation. Finally, the department shared the data with a newly formed strategic enforcement team.

“The advanced analytics along with the three tactics in collaboration drove overdose numbers down exponentially,” Geissenberger noted. In this instance and other ways, the tool harnesses data to facilitate intelligence-based decisions on resource allocation and crime trends.

3. Visualize Critical Data

In the world of public safety, there are a million data points, but sometimes it’s hard to see the big picture. In addition, not everyone needs to know everything. A plethora of irrelevant data can be distracting and waste time – two things law enforcement agencies can’t afford. It’s critical for users to be able to quickly get the answers they need for their role at any given time – without extraneous information.

Tools such as New World™ Decision Support Software (DSS) provide deep-dive analytics for data-driven decisions yet also offer custom visualizations for specific functional roles. Key components for the big picture as well as critical details are:

  • Data analytics, which provides crime analysts the means for a very fast and flexible analysis of large sets of data.
  • Customizable dashboards, which offer user-configurable graphical views into the performance of the organization.

The point is to focus on the business decisions an agency needs to make, not on the structure of the data. “I wouldn’t say we’re stats-driven,” said Castle Rock PD Commander Todd Brown. “We’re really data-driven. We’re not interested in only in the number of tickets. We’re interested in the impact our enforcement actions impact either crime or traffic issues throughout the town.”

By taking the above steps, law enforcement agencies can give citizens self-service access to community crime data, use analytics to identify crime trends and inform crime-reduction strategies, and surface insights from the big picture to the small details through visualizing data in new ways. Take a deeper dive into these three areas here.

Related Content