Anticipating Crime through Data Analysis

By Astler, Craig | Law & Order, August 2002 | Go to article overview

Anticipating Crime through Data Analysis

Astler, Craig, Law & Order

In recent months there has been a dramatic upswing in demand among America's law enforcement community for better tools to track and anticipate criminal behavior. Much of the increase has been due to the events of September 11, 2001; other factors have contributed as well, such as the debut of more powerful, less expensive analytical software and willingness among government agencies to share and standardize data.

The good news is that today's cutting-edge database technologies are not the exclusive venue of federal agencies and well-funded, bigcity police departments. New systems are now available that allow departments of all sizes and budgets to analyze, solve, even forecast criminal activity.

One department already on the bandwagon is the Westminster Police Department (WPD) in Westminster, CA. The WPD is in the midst of deploying a relatively inexpensive, userfriendly yet powerful crime analysis system that aggregates data from multiple departmental sources, using computer-based maps of the city as the primary means to deliver its mix of strategic information.

Once fully deployed, Westminster's analytical platform will enable watch commanders, supervisors and patrol officers in the field to immediately identify theft patterns, pinpoint likely suspects, cross-reference certain crimes against related illicit behavior and much more, simply by clicking a mouse.

Moving strategic use of multiple data sources into the hands of line-level personnel has been a strongly pursued tactical goal of the WPD. Now, through its new analytical software, this medium-sized police department has set out to not only to turn department data into strategic information, but also to put that information into the hands of managers and patrol personnel alike, allowing those professionals to feel fully vested in the system.

Solution Meets Growing Needs

Westminster, a city of 88,000 people, is a middle-class Southern California community. Originally comprised primarily of Orange County farmland, Westminster has grown dramatically in its 43-year history, bringing with it many public safety concerns that the department has met with a sizable degree of success.

Among Westminster's consistent crime challenges are robberies and auto thefts. According to Lt. Marsh, director of Administrative Services/Information Technology, its new analytical system will combat these crimes of opportunity through better trend tracking. Marsh said that any auto theft metric that is recorded can be researched with this platform: location, time of day, vehicle color, engine size or configuration, even occurrences of joy ride v. chop shop thefts. With this detailed data at officers' fingertips, the department can pro-actively meet the challenges its people are facing in the field.

In order to create its crime analysis solution, the WPD chose C-Insight from MetaEdge Corporation, a database analysis software provider located in Sunnyvale, CA. High on the WPD's list of priorities was an all-in-one product that was intuitive for both the end user and the IT support staff. C-Insight combines a userfriendly browser interface with broad interoperability, which will enable the force to integrate a wide variety of disparate databases, mapping software and other thirdparty applications without the addition of secondary modules.

Other important criteria for the department were ease of installation and convenient maintenance. Marsh and his staff of two support specialists comprise the entire WPD IT department. The team felt that the relatively small programming experience necessary to operate CInsight made it practical for a smallto-medium agency like theirs.

Westminster recently completed the process of cleansing and merging information from multiple databases, making it ready for access via C-Insight's graphical user interface. Once online, the system will make available dispatch/callfor-service data, arrest reports, traffic citation statistics and more, thereby providing real-time, on the fly views of crime and accident trends. …

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