Not every city in the U.S. will have the resources, or the need, to go to the lengths of the NYPD in creating a real-time crime center. However, most cities can and should have some sort of crime center to improve operations—especially during major incidents.
Buyer's Guide: May 2013
FEATURED IN TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATIONS
TV crime shows make it seem like every reasonably large city has a high-tech command center with massive LCD screens staffed with cops who hack computers 24/7. Reality, however, is more complicated than Hollywood imagines.
Information and surveillance technology abounds in the modern city. City departments operate traffic cameras. Private firms have security cameras on their premises. Database information relevant to public safety can be found throughout police departments, social services, the court system and other public entities. This technology can be used to make the city safer and aid in responding to police calls.
Municipalities are beginning to develop plans to use these tech assets to spot crime as it occurs, predict unfolding disturbances and aid first responders. This approach is often referred to as active intelligent policing.
Technical & Operational Issues
Achieving intelligent policing requires working through a series of issues that range from technical to operational.
Turning data into information: The massive amount of data created by cameras, sensors and other technologies is potentially a tremendous boon to law enforcement. However, the promise of safer cities requires more than just that data.
Mass volumes of data can be confusing and counterproductive without passing that data through a workflow that involves analysis and correlation. The data needs to be turned into useful information and intelligence that can be acted upon in the field. We can’t expect the first responder to solve it while chasing someone wielding a gun.
Integrating tech and police workflow: The integration of information coming from the public or via surveillance and sensor systems, along with informational and records databases, have the potential to yield significant public safety benefits. But for many years, technical barriers have existed which limited the extent to which integration could occur. Today, as technical barriers steadily decline, the challenge starts to shift toward workflow integration.
Surveillance and 9-1-1 technology must be integrated with each other and with police department protocols and workflows. These integrated systems must ensure that laws and rights of both the public and suspects are protected while the whole system acts with deliberate speed. Experienced police officers have to be in control of the process of turning data into information and advising the officer in harm’s way.
Expand the policing capability beyond tactical situations: The primary focus of active intelligent policing should be to improve situational awareness and coordinate the right, real-time response in order to protect and save lives. But that’s just one step of a longer journey toward creating safer cities. Another step in this process is to use the information generated by such a system to identify patterns, trends and potential hot spots for crime, enabling a more proactive approach to policing.
The vast amount of data and intelligence creates the potential to anticipate crime. But to do so effectively requires the development and deployment of sophisticated analytics and correlation capabilities, while presenting information in a simple and unifying picture. As the active policing efforts start to prove effective at reducing crime in a given area, the buildup of crime in new areas can then be mapped and flagged.
The goal: To use technology to enhance policing. Technology should increase the speed and ability to save lives and catch criminals. The solution is to create a logical point of intersection between the available technologies and the expertise of experienced police professionals.
That integration step can’t be left to the officer in the field to perform as an incident is unfolding. Systems, such as the real-time crime center solution, that tie the command center to the officer in the field and push relevant information to officers in real time are needed. A real-time crime center helps create the insights from all available resources, communicates them to the officer on the beat and plays a role in identifying incidents while or even before they happen.
The Real-Time Crime Center Solution
In the real-time crime center, numerous things happen in rapid succession when a call is referred. The incident location is mapped and the history of incidents in that area is called up from police records. This information is cross-
referenced with other agencies, such as mental health services, and compared to a database of known offenders in the area. Layers of available assets, such as street cameras and police units in the area, are mapped. If possible, analysts manipulate cameras to scan the area. Analytics can be applied to capture license plate numbers on cars or facial recognition of assailants. Communication is established with the responding officers and any relevant available information is shared. Once the officers leave the car, they rely on the view of an experienced officer watching the scene through cameras and warning them of assailant movements, bystanders approaching, potential escape routes, etc.
Creating this 360-degree analytical view of an incident is a specialized task for an experienced officer and analyst in a centralized location—the real-time crime center. Viewers of action-oriented TV melodramas might believe these types of centers already exist in major cities. However, they are works in progress as municipalities work to integrate technology with new workflows and human intelligence.
How to Get Started
We live in a time of budget uncertainty. Yet, public safety is an unquestioned priority for all levels of government. Active intelligent policing has numerous benefits and can be implemented by the following steps.
Find a partner: Police agencies should bring to the table a deep knowledge of their cities and a passion for keeping them safe. You don’t need to be experts on wireless networks or analytics. Your technology solution partner should bring that knowledge and much more to the table. The right partner also possesses a healthy appreciation of the life of a police officer—someone who might be enmeshed in routine processes one moment and chasing a bank robber the next. Such a job produces people with certain pragmatic sensibilities and if the new system doesn’t implement those sensibilities, it won’t be used.
Explore possibilities with next-generation 9-1-1 deployments: The next generation of 9-1-1 systems is beginning to roll out across the nation. These systems will have the capability to take in a richer set of information from the public, such as text messages and video or pictures from cell phones. As the data sets coming in and going out to the field get richer, it’s an opportune time to start asking questions about the next steps. What would trigger an escalation to a real-time crime center? What databases get tapped with certain kinds of calls? These deployments are also great opportunities to quiz your technology solution partner about the next steps of active intelligent policing.
Modern cities can offer the best and worst of humanity. That’s what makes them great backdrops for TV writers. Police departments have a higher calling—supporting citizens by keeping their cities safer means protecting them against the worst. When danger erupts, there are those who run toward it. The real-time crime center ensures they don’t rush in alone.
Bob Smith is vice president of MSSSI, Global Solutions and Services.