Law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania have a new weapon in their fight against crime -- a Web-based, GIS-powered mapping application that gives leaders the information they need when targeting criminal elements in communities.

The Eastern District of Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney's Office (USAO) includes Philadelphia and eight other counties: Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Montgomery and Northampton, and is at a geographic disadvantage when it comes to crime. It's located in the southeastern part of the state, and is increasingly attractive to the criminal element because a network of major thoroughfares connects it to New York City and Philadelphia.

"Because of the proximity to New York City, drugs and firearms are often transported to and from the Eastern District. In addition, drug dealers routinely travel back and forth to make deals, obtain contraband, and to obtain recruits for their illegal enterprises," said Robert Reed, deputy chief of the Criminal Division of the USAO. "Although most of the district's crime occurs in Philadelphia, a city of 1.5 million people, each of the eight other counties has its own violent crime problem."

Because of the substantial crime rate in the area, the USAO for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania -- among the largest of the 94 USAOs around the country, covering more than 5,000 square miles with more than 5 million people in nine counties -- is on a mission to make a change. As part of its efforts to reduce crime, the USAO participates in the federal Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) initiative.

The PSN encourages federal, state and local agencies to cooperate in a unified offensive led by the U.S. attorney in each of the 94 federal juridical districts. In Eastern Pennsylvania, the USAO has taken a unique step in using GIS and Internet technology to facilitate the PSN initiative, and in doing so, is helping law enforcement make more informed decisions.

Building on GIS

For several years, the USAO used GIS to spatially track, display and analyze homicides, firearms and drug crimes in Philadelphia. The system relies on coordination with the Philadelphia Police Department to provide the incident data used in the GIS system, and allows the USAO to analyze patterns of crime citywide. Using this system, the USAO can determine if there are connections between investigations being conducted by local and federal agencies.

The USAO wanted to replicate this system in the eight other counties it oversees to maximize data sharing among PSN partners, and to provide the district attorney's offices, as well as local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, with an easy-to-use Web-deployed mapping tool. The system would enable users to gain a geographical perspective on firearm incidents and homicides in their own jurisdiction, bordering jurisdictions and the entire Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

"The challenge for law enforcement is to understand how drugs and firearms are coming into the district, and to identify and target the criminals," said Reed.

The USAO formed a team to develop the relationships between federal, state and local law enforcement required to form a GIS-based system that could be used in all nine counties.

The team determined it could use the crime reporting procedures, security trust model and data warehousing infrastructure already used by the Regional Information Sharing System (RISS), which comprises six regional data centers across the country. The team then used an existing database that law enforcement was already utilizing to share information, and encouraged the participating agencies to increase the volume of data being submitted.

The next hurdle was obtaining inexpensive regional spatial data sets to provide a street file with the inherent accuracy for geocoding and enough other context layers to provide rich base mapping. The solution was found in ESRI's ArcWeb Services. ESRI charges a small transaction fee, covered through PSN grant funds, which provides the

Justine Brown  |  Contributing Writer