By Bonnie Locke, Director of Program Management, Nlets, Phoenix, Arizona
n June, Nlets, The International Justice and Public Safety Network, unveiled a new tool for law enforcement. As part of the 2008 Nlets Annual Conference, the organization showcased a geographic information system (GIS) prototype application made possible by the Live Operational Geospatial Information Capability (LOGIC) grant from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). A focal point of the prototype was an interactive map that visually displayed all law enforcement agencies across the United States. The demonstration included a mapped display of Nlets’ message keys, as well as the targeting of messages, such as an AMBER Alert in a given geographic area. The policy and practice implications of LOGIC are pervasive, as the effort will improve the effectiveness of public safety professionals across the United States. Nlets is partnering with the Oregon State Police, the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center, IDV Solutions, and Microsoft on this critical project for the law enforcement community. Nlets has plans to complete implementation of the prototype as necessary in at least two pilot states, Alabama and Oregon, by the end of the first quarter of 2009.
Need for Geographic Information
Currently, Nlets does not geocode (that is, assign latitude and longitude to) the originating routing indicator (ORI) database or its messages—which makes it difficult to target alerts and notifications geographically. Users can send messages to a single agency, to a group of agencies, to an entire state, or to one or more of eight regions; however, they cannot send messages to specifically targeted geographic areas, such as the area within a 20-mile radius of a particular location. The absence of location-based delivery controls hinders the effectiveness of essential notifications. As a result, Nlets messages are often targeted to a group of broader distribution than is necessary. On the receiving end, broadly distributed incoming messages often require manual screening because of the considerable resources associated with statewide distribution.
The absence of GIS-based messages makes it difficult to present data spatially. Using maps to analyze data is a critical law enforcement tool that is underutilized because of the difficulty in geocoding the information. Once Nlets geocodes this information, specifications are needed for states to exchange GIS-based information. The lack of specifications makes it difficult for users to exchange this type of law enforcement data. Standards will also allow states to import Nlets messages into their own GIS applications.
As part of the LOGIC project, Nlets will develop a GIS Web Service Standard, geocode the ORI database, and archive messages. This will allow users to pull up a map that displays all federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies relevant to a particular query. Law enforcement officials can select an agency on the map or agencies within a geographic area and send public safety alerts (on such topics as weather, be-on-the-lookout messages, all-points bulletins, AMBER Alerts, and Homeland Security Alert notices).
Geocoding archived messages will allow users to display spatially the result of a Random Access to Nlets Data (RAND) query. Users will see the results of a RAND query displayed on a map. Selecting a specific point on the map will execute the query and bring back the details of the message.
Creating XML-based GIS specifications will enable states to exchange GIS-based law enforcement messages using Web Services. This will allow states with robust GIS applications to import Nlets messages into their own systems.
Benefits of Visualization
The LOGIC project will increase the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies by making better use of GIS applications. Nlets will accomplish this by demonstrating the strength and value of geospatial capabilities for interstate law enforcement activities and by delivering these location-based services over the Nlets network.
The specific benefits of the LOGIC project to law enforcement agencies are as follows:
- Testing the feasibility of exchanging GIS data: Spatial analysis is a powerful investigative and communication tool. The LOGIC project will allow law enforcement agencies to begin understanding the full benefits of GIS applications without making major investments in their own systems.
- Enhancing law enforcement capability: Displaying RAND data visually on a map will help investigators see crime patterns that involve several states. Selecting a point on a map and running a query will increase the speed at which critical information is provided to law enforcement agencies. Ultimately, this could save officer lives.
- Improving the effectiveness of administrative (AM) messages: Targeting AM messages at particular geographic areas will make broadcasting these messages much more effective. Since messages will be sent to specific areas instead of to an entire state, the amount of unnecessary messages will be reduced.
- Reducing cost to state agencies by providing a centralized access to GIS data: Developing a GIS application for a state is costly and can take several years to implement. With Nlets providing access to GIS data through its portal, states will have access to a powerful GIS application at no cost.
- Enabling states to exchange GIS data: Developing XML-based specifications will enable states to exchange GIS data using Web Services. States that have their own GIS applications will be able to import data into their own systems.
Only the Beginning
George Ake, information policing coordinator for the NIJ Border Research and Technology Center at the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas, sees the LOGIC project as only the beginning of technological advances in mapping and analysis:
LOGIC is very exciting because we can look at things graphically and get out messages in a smart way. For example, if a child was taken, I could actually use a LOGIC device or application to get information out to critical places very quickly. We haven’t ever had that opportunity. Also, when you see things on a map—and you are able to overlay different types of information—it is very useful because you can see it, rather than just get text information. I think LOGIC is going to be a really big thing. I think we’ve probably just scratched the surface.
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