Crime In Realtime

Delawares realtime crime reporting system is revolutionizing the job of law enforcement officials in the state.

by / May 6, 2001
Until recently, law enforcement agencies in Delaware were dependent on paper for processing crime reports, analyses and maps. Processing such data often took from one week to a month or more. By the time investigators received the information, opportunities for proactive decision-making were often lost.

Although crime in Delaware was declining in the 1990s (consistent with crime statistics nationwide), then-Gov. Thomas Carper wanted to ensure that the downward trend continued. In 1998 he requested a crime-tracking system.

Two years later, Delawares enterprise-wide realtime crime reporting (RTCR) system was completed.

On the Fast Track

Department of Public Safety (DPS) Project Manager Elayne Starkey said that, although the project had input from law enforcement agencies statewide, RTCRs critical success factors were political will, open planning and a state-of-the-art design.

"The project had high-level executive sponsorship from the outset. On a weekly basis, the governor was asking my boss, his cabinet secretary, how RTCR was coming along," she said. "That prompted my boss to keep on me to make sure we were on track, on budget and on time."

From the outset, stakeholders in Delaware law enforcement, justice information offices and other agencies were invited to take an active role in the project -- identifying system requirements, features, design and development. DPS headed up the project and assembled teams of advisory and technical representatives from various agencies.

Following a project plan developed by Starkey, the group began with a preliminary needs assessment, meeting with each of the states 43 law enforcement agencies individually. Responses at all levels of law enforcement supported the concept, and a subsequent cost benefit analysis indicated it was feasible. "At that point," Starkey said, "we went to the Legislature to secure funding."

The response was a $3 million grant to help local law enforcement agencies acquire the technologies needed for participation in a realtime crime reporting system.

Building It

By December 1999, Delaware had a turnkey system based on criteria established by the project team and the law enforcement community. It included the hardware, software, installation, maintenance, warranty and training. The total cost of development was $732,287, most of which went to software, system integration and installation.

Today, officers in the field type reports on mobile data computers running customized software. The report is transmitted through a secured wireless communications module to the state network and stored in the Delaware Justice Information System database. From there, the report goes to an Oracle 8 database management system. The addition of a spatial data cartridge transforms the database management system into an object-relational database management system capable of handling GIS applications as well as other types of data.

An automatic geocoder reads the street address in the report and attempts to match it with an appropriate address segment in a Delaware street centerline file. If the two match, the geocoder assigns map coordinates to the address in the report, enabling the GIS mapping application to display the address as a point on a map and be included in proximity and distance searching. User requests for maps and related crime information are made through a standard Web browser. A Web server then uses Intergraphs GeoMedia Web Enterprise to retrieve the data. Web Enterprise is an open architecture platform that interacts with all major GIS formats and enables intelligent RTCR maps to be sent via the Delaware intranet.

Reports with geocoded crime addresses can be available to workstations statewide within minutes of being sent from a mobile unit. Users from the governors office to the DPS can review reports in tabular form. And with the straightforward graphical user interface, they can generate one or more map layers by selecting parameters of interest, such as type of crime, area and time frame. Each type of crime is represented on the map by an icon. Clicking on the icon accesses a detailed report about the crime.

Officers coming on duty can check on criminal activity in their respective areas and plan patrols appropriately. Detectives can identify hot spots, look for crime patterns and analyze data for associations. The governor and superintendent of the State Police also use the system to hold police chiefs and troop commanders accountable for what happens in their jurisdictions.

Dover Police Chief Keith Faulkner uses RTCR to monitor trends and encourages others to do the same. The Dover Police Department is also using RTCR to develop monthly statistical analyses and maps. The chief recently learned of a series of auto thefts from RTCR reports and reallocated personnel to address the issue. Using RTCR, investigators were able to identify similar thefts in neighboring cities.

Need for Speed

Theoretically, a report from a mobile unit can take up to 12 hours to arrive at a workstation, but Delaware State Police Detective Joe Rose said reports are reaching his desk in 10 minutes. Rose uses RTCR primarily to keep an eye on when, where and what types of crimes are happening in his area.

Before RTCR, Rose said he received crime reports through the mail, a process that often took a day or two, with another couple of days before they reached his desk. "By then, the chances of getting a good lead were mostly gone," he said. "With RTCR, we get the information faster -- [we] dont have worry about reports getting lost in the mail and [we] dont have to rely on a paper trail."

Issues and Enhancements

DPS has several projects under way to improve RTCR operations. One is the improvement of address accuracy. Starkey said that, at present, only 70 percent of crime reports can be automatically geocoded. The problem stems from a lack of street addressing in rural communities and not having a statewide street-centerline file. Consequently, RTCR originally used base maps developed by different cities and counties, some of which are incompatible. The agency is currently sorting out these problems with the help of the counties. At the same time, rural areas are converting route and box numbers to conventional street addresses.

The agency is also preparing to develop a realtime auto accident reporting system.

Unfortunately, the limited bandwidth available for the mobile units is an issue that will have to wait for advances in communications technology. Jason Dong of Enterprise Information Solutions Inc. -- the firm that provided GIS consulting for the RTCR system -- said the bandwidth of the cellular digital packet data (CDPD) link between mobile units and stations is 20KHz. "Thats enough for mobile units to receive textual crime reports, but map files are too large for the existing bandwidth," Dong added. "That service will evolve as wireless technology matures."