Byline: Dana Treen, The Times-Union
A house under renovation looms near a corner of Eighth Street in Springfield, its new windows looking over a next-door lot where a house is planned for the vacant ground.
There in midst of the gentrifying Jacksonville neighborhood one recent evening, police stopped a car because it had bullet holes in the trunk and darkly tinted windows. Three patrol cars crowded the corner, emergency lights spinning, while officers checked the driver then let him go with a ticket for an illegal window tint.
"We want to dominate the scene with manpower," said Lt. Rick Parker, supervisor of a new squad that has been assigned to crack down on suspicious activity in a 10-block-long, six-block-wide quadrant of the historic district north of downtown.
Officers moved in after crime analysts found the area had a high concentration of prostitution, drug dealing and gun violations. Using those indicators, snapshots of criminal activity can be generated for Parker, a sergeant and a squad of 13 officers.
"Their mapping capability is extraordinary," Parker said. "They are simply putting us in an area and giving us a large volume of information."
Springfield is the first neighborhood to be targeted in an initiative Sheriff John Rutherford believes will make neighborhoods and schools safer.
In a second phase, local patrol units, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Community Affairs unit and city services will be assigned to maintain police pressure, build community involvement in crime prevention and address conditions like abandoned buildings.
Combined with laws to keep habitual misdemeanor offenders in jail for longer periods, the sheriff's Operation Showdown is aimed at reducing crime in neighborhoods and thwarting criminals' efforts to gain toeholds elsewhere.
Technology is key to the initiative.
In the initial phase, analysts are updating trends in weekly reports to officers as they also sift through data in increasingly shorter periods of time, said Frank Mackesy, director of the Patrol and Enforcement Department.
"What this does is allow us to identify crime closer to its origin," Mackesy said.
More than a million incident reports are written each year in Jacksonville, Mackesy said. In addition to sorting that information, analysts mark it on maps that can be e-mailed to police substations. Using the information, officers can quickly retrieve background reports on individual crimes.
"They are getting a lot of different information now and they are getting it a lot quicker," Mackesy said. "We are analyzing our crime data within 24 hours of it happening."
Andreas Olligschlaeger, a law enforcement consultant whose company sells data systems, said computer crime mapping has emerged in the past 15 years.
Because law enforcement agencies typically are slow to adopt technological advances, it has taken time for crime mapping to take hold, he said.
He said cities use mapping systems to track trends from vandalism to heavy traffic flows that may be indicators of drug activity and areas where dealers sell.
"The [neighborhood's] physical environment has a lot to do with drug dealing," he said. "They are going to locate where there is very little guardianship of the property. …