Predictive Modeling Becomes a Crime-Fighting Asset - Technology and Communications -

Predictive Modeling Becomes a Crime-Fighting Asset

Easy-to-use mapping software helps Philadelphia police unlock the value of its data



Jesse Theodore | From the February 2009 Issue Monday, February 2, 2009

Economic downturns don't just affect businesses. Government agencies have to do more with less as budgets get trimmed and tax revenues slow to a trickle. This can be especially difficult for law enforcement where public service means fighting crime and protecting lives.

For the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD), geographic information system (GIS) software provides an invaluable resource for meeting mission demands. The enterprise platform provides commanders and frontline staff with the ability to make sense of millions of historic incident records to accurately pinpoint crime rates and patterns. Instead of dozens of individuals combing through thousands of pages of paper documents or volumes of spreadsheets and digital forms stored in multiple locations, PPD uses GIS to unlock its data stores and make better decisions. In addition, the PPD GIS allows officers of any rank and in any department to perform their own information analysis. They can quickly and easily perform a query, see the results and share it with other staff.

GIS gives PPD an information-based resource for strategically placing field personnel and executing policing programs that deter crime, apprehend suspects and quickly respond to emergencies. Information flows throughout the organization. The agency proactively stays ahead of the crime-fighting curve.

Crime Analysis & Mapping Unit
The Philadelphia Police Department is composed of more than 6,600 officers, approximately 405 patrol cars, 116 emergency wagons and numerous auxiliary vehicles for police use. The Crime Analysis and Mapping Unit was established in September 1997 as part of a block grant from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). This grant provided the agency with the resources to implement GIS as part of a comprehensive information technology architecture.

Today, PPD uses ESRI ArcGIS 9.3 software, Microsoft Visual Studio, Microsoft Access 2002 and Microsoft SQL Server 8.0.

The unit consists of three civilian GIS professionals. GIS accesses the department s incident database (INCT), which stores every crime reported since July 1997. These records are generated from 9-1-1 calls. Crime addresses from INCT files are mapped to a city street file as a dot, a process called geocoding. The GIS can access more than 150 geographic data layers, with more than 50 of these maintained by the unit. The unit geocodes more than 5,000 incidents each day and nearly 2.5 million incidents annually. The geocoded incidents have specific symbols based on crime type.

The types of services include printed maps, database reports, statistical graphs and charts, and intranet mapping services.Ad hoc requests are also done. The unit produces as many as 50 maps a week. This can include regularly updated incident maps, such as weekly or monthly maps showing crime density, locations, police beats, arrests, calls for service, citations issued and car accidents. Points of interest are also mapped, such as liquor-licensed establishments, surveillance camera locations, hospitals, nightclubs, shelters and halfway houses. In addition, data on buildings, railways, sidewalks, alleys and open areas is integrated into the GIS.

Special units served by the Crime Analysis and Mapping Unit include homicide, narcotics, major crimes, highway patrol and the Crime Scene Unit. The Mapping Unit also serves the district attorney's office for court preparation by frequently providing court maps. Staff can fill out an online request, phone in a request or go to the unit in person to ask for a map product.

Geo-enabled COMPSTAT
Senior ranking officials attend weekly computer statistics (COMPSTAT) meetings held at agency headquarters to review recent events, share work activities for each police district and jointly plan future policing programs.

Crime in each police district is broken down by type and further analyzed to identify the place of occurrence as well as the time of day, day of the week, and week and month of the year. Homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults are divided into incidents committed with and without guns. Aggravated assaults are further classified as domestic or nondomestic. Burglaries are listed as residential or commercial. Thefts are classified as retail theft, theft from a person, theft from an auto and auto theft. Data are also captured for incidents involving shootings and gun arrests and seizures.

The custom ArcGIS Desktop map displayed at the meetings shows crimes that have occurred not only over the last 28 days but also the previous 28 days. Commanders assess the impact and effectiveness of anticrime strategies. Drug arrest patterns are mapped with other crime data, because narcotics often spur violent crime. District maps display narcotics arrests of both buyers and sellers along with reported crime. In addition, recent prison releases and active arrest warrants can be overlaid on top of individual crime types. This helps police visualize and generate potential suspects to target in an area that is clustered with a specific crime type.

We analyze patterns of different crime types, what times they are occurring, and what days they are occurring, then produce density maps and hot-spot maps to decide how to best deploy personnel, says Michael Urciuoli, GIS specialist, Philadelphia Police Department.

A GIS-Based Intranet Hub
The unit currently has several GIS applications available to police personnel from any desktop or laptop computer via the department's intranet. They consist of three major components:

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Jesse TheodoreJesse Theodore is a writer for ESRI, a leading GIS software company. He has more than 13 years of experience covering topics in public safety, energy, business, government and other markets.


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