By Marc Fields, Chief of Police, Erlanger, Kentucky, Police Department; and Steve Castor, Communications Center Manager, Erlanger, Kentucky, Police Department
few years ago, Erlanger, Kentucky—a quiet suburban community in northern Kentucky, close to Cincinnati, Ohio—experienced a series of mysterious crimes. Everything from wrought-iron fences to sewer covers was disappearing. The burglaries, though, were spread across several jurisdictions throughout northern Kentucky, and none of the police departments involved detected a pattern. It was not until some of the stolen goods turned up at a multijurisdictional recycling center that police could see the pattern and solve the crime. It turned out thieves were feeding the rising demand for contraband iron fueled by China’s industrial expansion.
That Was Then, This Is Now
Today, the city of Erlanger Police Department (PD) could detect the pattern and stop it immediately—and with even fewer personnel and less overtime. Any one of the police chiefs and more than 150 police officers in 10 neighboring cities could go to the police department’s secure web-based portal interface, open a web browser, enter a keyword such as “metal” or “iron” into a simple search index, and all of the related incidents—up to the current minute—would be linked in a onepage report.
To better serve its 22,000 residents with a 42-member force, the Erlanger PD created a new integrated information system that provides police with real-time views of incidents, arrests, 9-1-1 calls, and other events throughout the dispatch area. The system combines current crime data from 19 government agencies and 10 neighboring cities, linking formerly unrelated information about suspects, incidents, arrests, and crimes. It also merges current data with crime records and incident reports stretching back over five years. Integrated search capabilities enable law enforcement personnel to access all of this information in seconds without needing an analyst to generate reports.
The Erlanger PD worked with Information Builders, using its WebFOCUS business intelligence software, and ESRI’s geographic information system (GIS) software to create this interactive, real-time crime portal in fewer than three months using six information technology staffers.
New System Requirements
The primary motivator for this project was a desire to share information among multiple agencies. Historically, the Erlanger PD had used mapping and statistical software to provide information to patrol officers and supervisors. Manually mapping crimes was time-consuming, however, and the data were not in real time. In addition, neighboring cities used different systems, some with no crime mapping, and many police records were only available offline in hard copies stored in filing cabinets, all of which made it difficult to share information beyond city boundaries.
While criminals crossed back and forth over these boundaries, the information about their crimes stayed within individual cities, often out of reach when it was needed most. The department needed a solution that could dig into historical databases and integrate real-time information about incidents, crimes, and arrests.
The Erlanger PD also faced a 5 percent to 10 percent annual increase in calls, stretching police resources to the limit. By working smarter and doing more work with fewer people, the city of Erlanger could avoid raising taxes or hiring additional personnel. This realization drove the department to build a new information system.
The system had to allow officers and supervisors to dig into historical databases, as well as integrate real-time information about current crimes, arrests, and incidents—old data are no good in patrol cars. The system also had to be fast, easy, and intuitive to use.
What the New System Does
To meet these requirements, the Erlanger PD built a business intelligence (BI) portal that links to local law enforcement applications and provides key performance indicators (KPIs) for supervisors, dynamic visualization of geographic data, integrated real-time search capabilities, and automatic report creation and distribution. Although the Erlanger PD looked for a packaged, prebuilt solution, the department did not find one and instead found that it was faster and more affordable to build a customized solution with off-the-shelf components. Getting current information out of the new system is practically instantaneous—an essential asset on the street.
The Erlanger PD system combines integrated search and BI in an innovative way. Search engines are usually designed to index and track webpages, but not database transactions. BI systems are usually designed for reporting and historical analysis, but not necessarily for simple searches. The Erlanger PD solution does both, as demonstrated in figure 1.
As a result, the Erlanger PD can now search dynamic BI content and structured and unstructured data sources through the universally known and easy-to-use Google search paradigm. By using simple keyword searches, users can locate key facts and then follow links to execute reports and access information in the format of their choice, including Excel, PDF, HTML, or XML. This capability gives officers access to the variety of existing applications simultaneously via a web browser that finds what they are looking for even though the officers do not know exactly what it is they are seeking or where it is stored.
All cities and agencies connected to the system input their respective records management systems (RMSs). Officers also can enter notes into the system directly from the field. Integration technology updates the search index every 15 minutes with crime records from Erlanger’s computer-aided dispatch system and RMS. The software taps into these records and rapidly scans indexed content, transforming it into usable information and preparing it for search by end users. Data are stored in a structured query language server database at the Northern Kentucky Area Planning
In the field, officers connect to the system through cellular-powered displays in their vehicles and conduct free-form, Google-style searches. Entering a brief search string returns header information followed by a narrative about specific incidents in the order those incidents occurred. The system reaches into associated transactions and databases to find additional information and groups related information so each officer can easily narrow results and filter large data sets.
Drilling down, officers can obtain reports that list all the pertinent information about each incident. For example, if an officer stops a speeding car and performs a quick search of the license plate number, the software could display a police report from earlier in the day in a neighboring city involving a hit-and-run incident, even if the witness at the scene got only part of the license plate number. In this way, a suspect in two crimes could be apprehended through a small piece of shared data, as demonstrated in figure 2.
At headquarters, dispatchers and supervisors can view a different slice of crime data through BI dashboards, anchored by a GIS. Dashboards for displaying and drilling into KPIs include crime activity by city, current crime alerts, and a summary of arrests and incidents sorted by categories (such as arson, assault, burglary, and criminal mischief), as demonstrated in figure 3.
The KPIs and maps provide an integrated view of crime data. Each interactive dashboard includes fields for drilling down into the data via parameters specified by the users, so they can enrich the map with facts about criminal activities and incidents as they occur. A patrol sergeant at the beginning of a shift, for instance, can review an analysis of calls that came into the center within the past 24 hours in a text-based or a visual format (with the maps) and then decide where to send officers based on crime trends, as demonstrated in figure 4.
Results: Enhanced Productivity and Prevention
Timely data sharing is an important key for effective police work, and the system makes getting data practically instantaneous. It also delivers information in appropriate ways for each audience, generating real-time search results for police officers in the field and delivering KPIs for supervisors at headquarters.
The new crime portal gives supervisors more power to detect patterns and prevent or quickly solve crimes by efficiently deploying the police force based on insight into a variety of patterns that become apparent when records are accessible and grouped in meaningful ways. For example, if a burglary occurs a block across from the city boundary, the Erlanger PD knows it, and supervisors can send a unit to patrol the border area, potentially preventing a crime. Real-time, integrated search capability is especially important for a small department that does not have the resources to hire experienced system analysts, let alone to monitor the price of iron on the world’s black markets. The Erlanger PD can more completely search its RMSs and at the same time create maps and information that help members of the department more efficiently go about their daily activities. Officers and supervisors can see over the last 24 hours where calls have occurred and compare crime stats against the prior year’s data and current year’s data to solve crimes more quickly and efficiently.
For example, using the search index, a patrol officer was able to quickly resolve an indecent exposure call. While still in the field, the officer in charge looked back over previous indecent exposure cases and identified those suspects who had already been arrested. Eliminating suspects shortened the investigation, which could have taken two or three days without access to these data. The timeliness of the data not only resulted in a shortened investigation, but also eliminated the necessity of pulling other personnel from their respective cases to do the research.
The Erlanger PD’s BI portal with integrated search capabilities is an intelligent crime-fighting tool that is helping to boost productivity and ultimately save lives. Officers have a valuable tool to help them make arrests and apprehend suspected criminals, while supervisors can make informed decisions about how and where to deploy the force. The department does not have to adjust procedures to the way the technology works, because the technology complements existing data resources and aligns with existing procedures. The system leverages the resources the department already has—its current repository of information and personnel—to ensure more effective protection for Erlanger citizens while containing costs.
The Future Is Now
Law enforcement today strives to be proactive rather than reactive. The goal is to arm officers with information that enables them to know in advance the situations they are entering, to quickly resolve crimes, and to make timely decisions based on real-time information. Finding, formatting, and delivering insightful information are key. Optimally, the solution will also help improve community relations by providing more transparency and flow of information while ensuring security and safety.
The technology exists today to do just that, and it gives the officer in the field an incredible advantage in fighting crime. As the Erlanger PD’s experience shows, data-centric, intelligence-led, proactive policing is easily within reach for any size police department—even with budget and personnel limits and increasing demands. The Erlanger PD built a customized solution using off-the-shelf components in a relatively short time frame (fewer than three months). The department was able to quickly deploy the solution while the demand was urgent, and it can change the system as required without bringing in the vendor.
By leveraging this up-to-date repository of information, officers can respond to calls with more knowledge in hand, and supervisors can deploy the force in a way that best serves the community. The new system has helped the Erlanger PD handle the recent increase in calls and increase the rate of crimes solved without adding personnel and while also reducing the need for overtime. ■
|Marc Fields began his career with the Erlanger, Kentucky, Police Department in 1986 as a patrol officer. He was promoted to assistant police chief in 2000 and was appointed chief of police in 2002. Chief Fields served in the United States Marine Corps Reserves from 1978 to 1984 and is a 1994 graduate of the 177th session of the FBI National Academy.|
Steve Castor began his career as a dispatcher in Boone County, Kentucky, in 1988. He joined the Erlanger Police Department as a patrol officer in 1994. After assignments in K-9 and investigations, Castor began as the communications center manager in 2007. Officer Castor recently completed the design and implementation of a mobile data system and the merger of 19 emergency agencies to the dispatch system.
Please cite as:
Marc Fields and Steve Castor, "Intelligence-Led Policing: The Future Is Now," The Police Chief 78 (December 2011): 72–75.