By Karen McDonough, Former Public Information Officer, Oceanside, California, Police Department; and Freelance Writer
hen the body of a 16-year-old babysitter was discovered weeks after her disappearance, Utah’s North Ogden Police Department got a break in its case.
Detectives enlisted help at the Real Time Crime Center (RTCC) at the neighboring Ogden City Police Department (OPD), where new software mapping tools helped to shed light on two suspects in the case.
The victim, Alexis Rasmussen, had been babysitting at the home of Dea and Eric Millerberg when she was last seen on September 10, 2011. The couple, each of whom has a criminal history, was arrested a few weeks later on drug charges. Several days later, the girl’s body was found in a nearby riverbed. She had died of a lethal injection of drugs.
The suspects’ alibis did not add up, and the investigation stalled. Detectives requested the couple’s cellphone records—an overwhelming 6,963 lines of information including calls, texts, and transmissions. The records were put into 3-D visualization software the RTCC uses and showed a more complete picture of the suspects’ actions before and after the girl’s disappearance.1
Right away, crime analysts had a colorful, 3-D visual map showing the interactions among the victim and suspects.
“The suspects were telling us they were home the entire time, but their cellphone records showed an entirely different story,” said OPD Detective Nicholas Poorte, who is assigned to the crime center. The data showed the couple’s travel patterns, which helped establish a solid timeline in the case. The pair was charged with the homicide, and they now await trial.
Without the technology, the large number of cellphone records would have taken an investigator two or three days to analyze. The software allows police to isolate the information that matters most and connect the dots to see patterns.
“With a few keystrokes, they were able to create that illustration which will be played for the jury that would have normally taken hours to do,” says OPD Police Chief Mike Ashment.
3-D Visualization Software
The 3-D software helps police better use their limited resources, handle calls for service with faster response times, and quickly produce real-time data to fight crime. The software is a crime analysis tool for the 21st century, and even departments without a crime analyst can easily use it. It gives agencies the ability to increase command, control, and situational awareness, and allows law enforcement to move from the standard model of reactive policing to proactive policing where they can attack problems.
The software works with standard spreadsheets and comma-separated values (CSV) files, as well as by connecting directly with mapping software and other technology already in place at most communication centers.2 Crime analysts at Ogden City’s RTCC said the program is easy to learn and comes with built-in tools, allowing them to look at data in different ways.
The geographic information system platform helps with crime and investigative analysis, data fusion and intelligence analysis, tracking vehicles and suspects, in-vehicle mobile mapping, traffic and accident analysis, corrections, parole and probation, and intelligence-led policing.
Seeing the Data
In a recent investigation, OPD got a search warrant to place a global positioning system tracking device on a drug suspect’s vehicle to monitor his movements. Based on his story to police, the suspect was supposed to be at a certain location, but the data showed he had been driving around the city.
“We were shocked at what we saw,” said David Weloth, a crime analyst at the RTCC.
The suspect’s vehicle stopped at residences where gang members and parolees lived, showing he was heavily involved in significant drug trafficking.
“This helps us determine where suspects are and how long they’re at a certain location,” which is critical in establishing timelines for the eventual prosecution of cases, Poorte said.
After a recent spike in vehicle burglaries, the OPD used the 3-D visualization software with computer-aided dispatching records to identify the suspects.3 Poorte input a list of known addresses for the city’s parolees and probationers and then added reported vehicle burglaries from computer-aided dispatch for a two-month time period—the length of the series. The computer showed 13 possible suspects, with whom the patrol officers then held field interviews. Officers ended up identifying three suspects in the stolen vehicle ring who were responsible for 14 cases, Poorte said. The detectives successfully made the arrests.
Recreating the Scene
On January 4, 2012, the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force was serving a drug-related search warrant at a home on a suspect, who ambushed the officers with gunfire, killing OPD Officer Jared Francom and wounding five other officers. The suspect, Matthew David Stewart, 37, who suffered nonserious injuries, is charged with capital murder and could face the death penalty.
When prosecutors present this high-profile case to the jury, it is important that members of the jury feel as though they were at the incident. The software will help recreate the scene by layering data to produce a 25-minute video that will be played to the jury, giving them a sense of being there. Radio traffic between dispatch and the officers at the scene was uploaded into the visualization software. Data captured on the automatic vehicle locators and dashboard cameras of the responding officers’ patrol cars also has been added. Poorte created slides of the screen information that converted to video. Finally, audio from the radio traffic gives viewers a sense of how it felt to be at the scene.
“To watch this and see in real time all of the different units responding to the scene for help is remarkable,” Weloth said. “Instead of having an officer sitting before a jury saying, ‘This is where I was, and this is where I parked,’ the jury can see it all at once in real time. It’s as close to reliving the event as you can get.” ♦
1GeoTime is 3-D visualization software created by Oculus Info Incorporated. Traditional 2-D visualization mapping tools work similarly but may not allow the user to see the data in real time.
2ArcGIS is made by Esri. The company partners with Microsoft and NAVTEQ to provide other mapping solutions for public safety.
3The visualization software can be used with Versadex CAD, a computer-aided dispatch system, or any other standard CAD system offered by more than 100 other companies. Crime analysts can input arrest warrant information and geographical crime data from CAD in the visualization system to produce a map showing the addresses of wanted people compared with high-crime areas. With this information, an agency can see where to concentrate enforcement efforts.
Please cite as:
Karen McDonough, "It’s about Time: How 3-D Visualization Software Helps Law Enforcement Analyze Data," Technology Talk, The Police Chief 79 (October 2012): 110–112.