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Back to Archives | Back to June 2009 Contents 

GIS Technology in Eugene: Piecing Data Together to Secure the Olympic Team Trials

By Dave Cook, ESRI Law Enforcement Industry Solutions, Redlands, California; and Stan Lenhart, Crime Analyst, Eugene, Oregon, Police Department

he Eugene, Oregon, Police Department (EPD) is a progressive crime-fighting agency. The organization combines old-fashioned policing with a philosophy of using technology in ways that best serve the city’s more than 140,000 residents.

In a typical day, Eugene police officers are dispatched to roughly 300 calls for service; 25,000 criminal cases are handled annually. EPD staff members also engage in proactive community education and crime prevention activities, with offerings ranging from an annual Safety Town program for prekindergarteners to seminars about recognizing and preventing elder abuse.

Recently, the agency made the jump from simple pin mapping to a more powerful desktop and Web geographic information system (GIS)—resulting in better decisions, more arrests, and safer streets. The department’s GIS links its records management data, computer-aided dispatch data, and information from other sources, providing the agency with four essential functions: data management, spatial analysis, visualization, and dissemination.

Perhaps one of the EPD's greatest successes involved the use of a technology platform for providing security during the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field. The department’s GIS helped it plan policing duties effectively, place equipment and security resources, and monitor events on the ground. By generating a map-based common operating picture, staff could dynamically respond to changing conditions on the fly.

The department originally intended to use GIS technology to perform simple mapping functions, but the department’s crime analyst was able to bring in a more powerful, industry-specific application appropriate for both long-term planning and daily operations. The department came to recognize that the GIS can help it deliver more accurate information faster to all of its officers— an ability that paid dividends during the Olympic trials.

Unlocking Crime Data

Over time, law enforcement has become a data-intensive profession. Situational awareness reports, incident accounts, accident descriptions, traffic violations, code infractions, calls for service—every agency works in a deluge of data capture activities. Each data point requires records that are brought into a database, but databases are often stored separately. It is a complex challenge for an agency to ensure it is getting the most value out of its ever-growing, isolated data repositories.

GIS technology can help agencies sort through this information and put it to good use. For example, hot spot maps help depict areas of high, moderate, and low crime rates. For example, data from the records management system are extracted and mapped to show excessive concentrations of residential burglaries for a four-week time period. These maps are shared with specialized units tasked with reducing a specific type of crime (in this case, burglaries). They provide an intuitive method—a map—for officers working in the specialized unit to understand quickly the analysis generated for that unit. Rather than handing over a spreadsheet or a paper report, the crime map is a more insightful means to pass along needed intelligence.

GIS maps are also generated to show repeat calls. If an address has a particularly high rate of calls, officers can use a map interface to click on the address icon and view a data table showing the number of recent calls and their related tabular information, such as incident type, responding officer, resulting action, and date and time of the call. Officers can proactively research houses or areas of repeat calls to investigate whether further policing or a search warrant may be needed.

The use of crime mapping is not limited to analyzing where crimes take place and deploying resources to respond to those crimes. Analysis often continues after a suspect has been apprehended: for example, if a suspect is arrested for vehicle theft, during the interview process, investigators question the suspect to find out what other crimes they may have recently committed.

Prior to questioning the suspect, investigators will ask an analyst to perform a buffer analysis—a type of analysis in which the system searches for a feature type, such as the location of a vehicle theft, and highlights it within a specified distance of a point on the map. Specifically, analysts look for similar crimes within a certain radius of the location where the suspect was apprehended. Investigators then begin questioning the suspect about these similar incidents. Given the frequency of repeat offenders, this is an effective method for solving multiple incidents.

EPD’s GIS Experience

When the EPD first implemented GIS technology, it used the system’s basic maps to show streets, police districts, and critical infrastructure. Paper maps hung on the department’s walls, offering street orientation for officers looking at a specific crime or a series of events.

Later, the agency began looking at the use of industry-focused applications to more quickly and easily produce crime maps that integrated data maintained in separate databases. The agency also wanted more robust tools that would give the crime analyst a new level of control and insight to raw data.

The agency chose to deploy CrimeView, a desktop solution from the Omega Group, based in San Diego, California. CrimeView is built using geospatial technology from Redlands, California–based business partner ESRI. The EPD began using CrimeView to perform queries, generate reports, and carry out analyses. The agency was also able to create maps that officers could use to fight crime and the agency could disseminate externally to communicate information to constituents.

EPD analysts perform a number of different geospatial functions that help the agency better understand where crime is happening. They query data by attribute or multiple attributes (such as crime type, time, day, incident location,
suspect, suspect's last known address); by geographic boundary; or by proximity to a location or specified landmark.

EPD analysts often build density maps of such data points as clustering narcotics sales. They also overlay different data, such as school zones that are identified as high-priority policing areas. They then decide how best to allocate officers to respond to the type of crime and its location. Later, analysts can reassess crime densities to evaluate the effectiveness of response strategies.

The EPD has found that it can clear quite a few cases by looking quickly at the data that come from within a given area. The other option would be to run a list based just on a time frame. But in this case, the department would not know whether the crimes listed have occurred geographically within the area of concern.

GIS technology has become the engine behind the city's public Web site, which allows visitors to view maps and crime statistics by neighborhood. Users can search, pan, and zoom on a digital map of the city of Eugene to see what is happening— and what has happened—in their areas of interest. Statistics are available for such crimes as robbery, assault, sex offenses, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft, forgery, fraud, vandalism, and drug abuse, among other offenses. By opening up crime information to residents, communities are more informed about what is happening on their streets. City staff members are less likely to get phone or mail requests for similar information.

GIS tools are also used to develop crime reports presented during quarterly command leadership meetings. Spatial trend maps compare changes in crime patterns via a map viewed over specified time periods. For instance, the number of robberies occurring in a specific police district in two successive years can be viewed by mapped incidents. This mapping capability gives commanders a macro-level understanding of crime trends. They can then begin to ask more detailed questions as to why areas are experiencing increases or decreases.

Securing the Olympic Team Trials

The University of Oregon, located in Eugene, hosted the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field from June 27 to July 6 of last year. Attendees from across the country descended on the school, which is renowned for its historic sports facilities. They witnessed athletes, at the culmination of years of hard work, compete in events ranging from sprinting to the javelin throw. Held at the university's Hayward Field, the 10-day event attracted more than 165,000 visitors viewing the games, making it the third highest attendance for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field.

The trials required comprehensive security. Providing safety for athletes, coaches, and Olympic judges and officials, as well as thousands of attendees, is no simple task. It involves properly assessing potential risks; understanding assets on the ground, including buildings, transportation corridors, housing, and street infrastructure; and planning for numerous contingencies, from simple car accidents, arrests, and medical emergencies to potential large-scale natural disasters or terrorist strikes.

The EPD spent the better part of a year working on many different security issues, with the assistance of several different law enforcement agencies from outside the area. The department built aerial maps with multiple landmarks to familiarize itself more closely with the areas it would be working. ArcGIS was used to build a grid system so that the department could assign people to sectors and ensure that the entire grounds were covered (figure 1).

Figure 1. Mapping software enabled the EPD to assign personnel to ensure complete coverage of the
area around Hayward Field.

A central emergency command center was staffed with analysts, commanders, and representatives from local, state, and federal agencies. Participating agencies included the EPD; University of Oregon campus security; the Oregon Department of Justice; the Oregon National Guard; the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation; and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

A large digital map projection, roughly 10 feet square, was displayed on one of the center's walls. Staff could pan and zoom and move around the digital map display to see different areas of the event. Data available in the GIS included recently captured aerial photography; oblique imagery; and digital map layers showing buildings, electric facilities, roads, parcels, district boundaries, underground tunnels, athletic staging areas, security staff locations, and emergency medical services locations.

A security perimeter was generated along with separate entry points for attendees and athletes. Bus routes and drop locations were also calculated to be in close proximity to entrance locations, providing safety and security while at the same time ensuring the fastest possible entrance into the sporting event.

In addition, video cameras provided a real-time view of events. If personnel moved from one area of the athletic grounds to another, this movement could be seen by cameras and recorded as points on the map. The command center also had GIS map layers showing where vendors were allowed to operate.

Before the actual trials took place, staff used oblique imagery managed in the GIS to view buildings in such a way as to determine where to properly place cameras. Staff members could look at a particular camera location to see whether it would be unobstructed or would be hindered by another building wall or other objects, like trees or foliage.

During the trials, data were updated in the spatial database and reflected in the common operating map. For instance, if an arrest or emergency incident occurred, it could be instantly annotated on the map. Data were used to respond to specific events, as well as to catalog everything that was happening, in near-real time.

Thanks to GIS technology, incident commanders could see what was happening on the ground at any given moment. For any incident, commanders could bring a response team into the emergency operations center in front of the map to show the team that the Oregon Department of Transportation, for example, needed to put a roadblock at a particular intersection.

GIS tools were also used to generate action reports and maps for daily morning briefings. The briefings provided field staffers and commanders' staffs with a detailed, map-based understanding of incidents occurring the previous day. It also helped communicate to staff the present day's activities and security priorities. Finally, any new developments—such as a change in the location of a sporting event—were illustrated on the briefing map as part of the morning meeting.

Getting Results with GIS Technology

The year of preplanning and on-scene due diligence achieved real results. Security for the event was smoothly run, with no major incidents or emergencies. This success is especially important as Eugene prepares for hosting the trials again in 2012.

Agencies must educate their planners about what GIS tools can do. Commanders will make better strategic plans using GIS-based analytical capabilities; frontline officers can use mapped data for enhanced decision support in the field; and a public Web site can keep residents informed of crime rates in their neighborhoods. GIS technology can help any agency be more effective in many different ways. ■



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVI, no. 6, June 2009. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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