By Dave Cook, Law Enforcement Industry Solutions, ESRI, Redlands, California; and Scott L. Burton, Geographic Information Systems Manager, GIS Unit, Bureau of Information Resource Management, Broward County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office
he modern law enforcement profession is undergoing a shift in how agencies operate. Comprehensive information systems and technology can now provide a foundation for driving the mission of protecting citizens, ensuring officer safety, and serving the community. Part of this shift includes a new wave of technology—the computer mapping geographic information system (GIS)—that supplies law enforcement agencies with a complete platform for operations.
With the growing popularity of consumer mapping products, the law enforcement community is realizing the power of maps by using robust GIS applications to meet strategic, tactical, and administrative goals. The long-term challenge for law enforcement agencies is to invest resources to bring together disparate data sets through a GIS. Agencies must work to manage vast amounts of information while creating a simple, relevant, user-friendly interface for personnel within and across entire organizations.
In a GIS-focused law enforcement agency, databases, in-vehicle computers, mobile devices, and GPS tracking equipment enable cost-effective data input and output systems and empower data analysis and dissemination to all who need it—officers, investigators, crime analysts, street supervisors, and upper-level managers. A GIS enables all agency personnel to work with the same common operating picture, viewing easily understood maps through a cost-effective use of finite resources.
Upper-level managers must have a complete understanding of what is happening in the communities they serve and the organizations they lead. A GIS can capture location information accurately no matter the data type or source. All types of data can be accessed and viewed by a common reference point—geography. Through a GIS, managers can access data-rich maps that provide a snapshot of where crime is taking place and what agency resources are deployed to combat crime; the system can also support resource management and decision making in real time.
This map-based operational awareness is supplied through an executive dashboard. Dashboards are applications that allow agencies to measure and, ultimately, to manage. An executive dashboard helps an agency’s leaders understand a range of issues in their community, both to enhance response and to direct future proactive policing activities. GIS-focused dashboards help agency managers clarify, prioritize, and manage assets and personnel needed to address criminal activity as well as man-made or natural disasters. Through this dashboard, actionable intelligence can drive day-to-day operations, planning, and investigations from multiple data feeds. The result is a common, relevant operating picture (CROP) whether to provide security for a large event, plan a comprehensive campaign to reduce drug-related crimes in a neighborhood, or disseminate detailed statistics and maps on quality-of-life issues to residents of a given neighborhood. A GIS meets the demands for providing accurate, mission-critical, real-time awareness for officers, commanders, and chief executives.
|Operational and Situational Awareness |
Image courtesy of ESRI
Information Integration and Analysis
Crime and intelligence analysts provide vital intelligence to help apprehend criminals. They enable law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies to benefit from high-tech tools that can transform esoteric, raw data into useful information. The ever-growing sophistication of computer analysis does present, however, a growing problem: as more data are captured and maintained, making sense of it all is increasingly difficult. GIS technology addresses the “data rich but intelligence poor” problem, providing a medium to enhance analyses and assessments. GIS solutions map chronological patterns or trends over time (such as auto thefts over the last six months); physical and geographic patterns for specific crimes (such as crimes in relation to weather, building locations, or high-volume traffic areas) and social networks (for example, a series of potentially related issues such as burglaries, the sale of narcotics, and probationary housing).
|Information integration and analysis|
Image courtesy of Broward County Sheriff's Office
Strategic and Tactical Planning
For middle managers and field supervisors, proactive policing—identifying and addressing criminal activity trends instead of merely reacting to them—is of paramount importance and involves strategic and tactical planning. Police need to identify vulnerabilities, risks, and threats accurately; this involves understanding variables both within the organization as well as on the street. A GIS provides a framework to make and execute critical decisions efficiently and effectively. Data are not simply viewed in a GIS, but acted upon. Strategic and tactical planning is a multidimensional process that involves intelligence gathering, risk assessment/analysis, response scenario modeling, procedure documentation, and traditional training and exercise.
Strategic and tactical planning begins with gathering and collecting data. Data can identify the variables of who, what, when, and where in any potential incident. Data can come from many sources, including local records management system (RMS) repositories, state databases, and data collection projects seeking specialized information.
Field Mobility and Situational Awareness
Emergency operations centers (EOCs) are increasingly using GIS technology in performing police tactical response. EOCs play a critical role in helping incident commands manage response. Information systems need to provide incident command with real-time information as events unfold as well as historical or related information for a better decision-making capability.
A GIS can provide an incident command with actionable knowledge: the locations of deployed resources, where conditions are worsening, and a picture of potential hazards. It supplies real-time situational awareness through field applications that collect data. Information can then be electronically “pushed” to tactical teams using mobile solutions so that incoming units know where to stage, where to deploy, and where to go for additional equipment and supplies. In-vehicle computer terminals, mobile devices, and wireless laptops enable viewing digital real-time situation maps. Operations personnel can provide updates back to the command center. As new information arrives, the GIS database is updated, and the new CROP is immediately viewable in the field through mobile devices.
|GIS law enforcement enterprise solution|
Image courtesy of ESRI
Full Integration within Existing Information Systems
Today’s GIS is foundational—it is based on open technologies and industry standards, meaning that it integrates fully with existing information systems. And its integration capability means that agencies get the most out of data they are already housing. Geographic information systems bring together data from any source. They provide the most powerful analysis functionality available. And their highly intuitive nature—a digital map interface—means that officers can use the systems’ tools with minimal training. The growing community of GIS users in the law enforcement field has fostered greater collaboration, communication, and coordination among agencies. More agencies use, or are striving to use, this technology across their enterprises today than ever before. ■
From The Police Chief, vol. LXXV, no. 8, August 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.