Crime in Real Time - Investigation -

Crime in Real Time

Using CAD data for crime analysis



Steve Walter | From the April 2012 Issue Thursday, May 10, 2012

It started as just another pleasant January morning in the beachside community of Oceanside, Calif. The sun had broken through the morning fog that so often hovered over the coastal edges of San Diego County, and the temperature was already touching the mid 70s. At around 11:45 a.m., Oceanside resident Tristan Geisler decided to take her dog for a walk through her neighborhood near the beach. She was out of the house for less than 40 minutes. When she returned, she found her home had been ransacked by burglars.

Unfortunately, in a city of over 165,000 people, no neighborhood is completely safe from property crime. Among the missing items was her 2002 Olympic gold medal, a rare piece of sports history and a priceless possession. It turned out that Geisler, known then as Tristan Gale, was the first American woman to win gold in the winter sport of skeleton.

In the week that followed, the story of the break-in caught fire in the media, grabbing national headlines and prompting skepticism that the medal would ever be recovered. The spotlight shifted to the Oceanside Police Department (OPD), faced with the task of solving the crime, and the near-impossible problem of recovering the medal.

Five days later they found it while serving a search warrant—buried beneath a filthy mattress. The story remained on the front page, and three suspects were ultimately arrested and charged with the crime.

Geisler’s husband praised the efforts of detectives in the local paper, writing: “This is incredible. This happened less than a week ago. OPD acted quickly and they were here promptly.” Although this was true, many never knew exactly how detectives solved the mystery so quickly.

How It was Done
In the days leading up to the gold medal theft, OPD crime analysts identified an emerging pattern of burglaries in the neighborhood surrounding the Geisler home. Using information from the department’s computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system and an application that provided real-time mapping, OPD analysts created a bulletin that included a map of the affected area, detailed the modus operandi of the series and listed the most current suspect and suspect vehicle descriptions.

Knowing they were now dealing with a cluster of crime cases, as opposed to an isolated incident, responding  officers and evidence technicians used information from multiple sources to develop a more complete suspect profile. When the theft of the gold medal occurred, investigators were a step ahead, already working toward the identification of the perpetrators.

Ultimately, it was fingerprint evidence from a case that occurred the day before and just down the street from the Geisler residence that led police to the suspect. Looking back, one can see how the analysis of CAD data kicked off the investigative process, unlocking valuable intelligence and allowing investigators to see the crime series as it happened.

Det. Doug Baxter, lead investigator in the burglary series, said, “The information that trickled in during the early stages of this investigation was critical in solving the entire series of crimes.

“We knew right away which cases were important, and in addition to recovering the gold medal, we were able to return a large amount of stolen property to multiple victims.”

Info Overload
If there’s a universal problem facing law enforcement agencies today, it’s the task of analyzing the massive amount of crime data that flows through police records systems, dispatch logs and criminal databases. Today’s cops are on the brink of information overload. Yet, the wealth of information that’s collected through these systems obligates police agencies to make use of it for a multitude of law-enforcement purposes.

One type of data that’s often overlooked for analytical purposes is CAD data. Just about every emergency response begins with a call to 911, and the nature of that process yields valuable information—locations, incident times—even M.O. and suspect details.

When it comes to this problem of information overload and the massive influx of crime data, the city of Oceanside is no exception. The city sits near the northern edge of San Diego County. It represents a diverse Southern California mixture—part beach community, part military town—and it sits at the crossroads between Los Angeles and San Diego. It has a long tradition of challenges for law-enforcement.

But it’s come a long way in the past six years. Crime’s dropped nearly 40%. Although it’s difficult to measure, at least part of this reduction can be attributed to the police department’s implementation of crime analysis and their use of real-time crime data.

CAD Data’s Value
In 2005, OPD acquired a program called FirstWatch, a web-based application designed to scan data from various sources for the purpose of identifying emerging trends and patterns. Through this application, data is organized and presented in the form of maps, charts and graphs, allowing the user to visualize the incoming flow of information.

Oceanside’s Crime Analysis Unit discovered that this type of analysis provided the perfect starting point for the daily analysis of crime. For the past several years, they’ve started each day reviewing recent and active calls for service throughout the city.


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