June 13, 2010 By Adam Stone
An emerging concept of policing appears to be helping communities reduce traffic accidents and serious crime.
Consider Lafourche Parish, La., one of seven test sites nationwide implementing a paradigm known as Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS). In 2009, the number of severe traffic accidents in the parish dropped to just 10, down from an average of 24 annually in previous years. Major crimes also declined, while drunken driving arrests increased from 154 in 2008 to 297 the following year.
DDACTS puts forward a simple proposition: Look at the times and places where major crashes and crimes occur. Map the two together, look at where the circles overlap and then boost deployment of law enforcement resources in those areas.
While the process may require some technological investment, participants say, it often can be launched using the data already on hand.
"All of the elements to do DDACTS, we were already doing. We do look at our crashes. We do look at our crime reports on a weekly basis," said Sgt. Eric Spratley of the Washoe County (Nev.) Sheriff's Research and Development Unit.
Washoe County relies primarily on Tiburon public safety software to produce crime statistics. To achieve the overlay with traffic data, the department tapped into the county's existing ArcGIS mapping capabilities and began generating color-coded maps. "Once you do that, the hot areas really jump off the map. It becomes really clear," Spratley said.
Led by the data, the department has been focusing its policing in areas where the most incidences of crime and crashes have been reported. Those deployments have had a deterrent value, Spratley said. In 2009, serious crimes in the county decreased 9 percent from the previous four years; in DDACTS zones, crime fell an additional 16 percent.
"If you overlay your high-crash areas and your high-crime areas, and you go out and work those crash and traffic problems, your crime will go down," Spratley said. "Criminals can't operate when there is significant presence out there."
The federal government has stepped in with technical assistance in support of DDACTS implementations across the country. The National Institute of Justice is helping to coordinate demonstration projects in seven jurisdictions.
DDACTS has drawn interest from Washington, D.C., not just because of its policing potential, but also for its ability to meet cost constraints. "The economic environment we are in today really requires that we use all available technology," said Jim Burch, acting director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
"If we could combine our analysis and look at traffic safety at the same time we were addressing crime problems, that would really give us a leg up," he said. "It's an economic imperative that we use data to drive our efforts to reduce crime."
The U.S. Department of Transportation also has thrown its weight behind DDACTS, with technical assistance and some grant funding. Planners say the ability to make headway in public safety while working off data that's already in existence makes DDACTS a compelling proposition.
"It provides a very effective and efficient use of the resources that they already have available," said Earl Hardy, a highway safety specialist in the Enforcement and Justice Services Division of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). "This is not overtime enforcement; this is not adding additional officers. This is about focusing their efforts in areas where they need to be focused."
But does it work? Suppose one can tabulate the statistical intersection of high crime and high accidents. Will putting more police officers in those zones really bring the numbers down? Reports from the pilot jurisdictions suggest the strategy can work.
Hardy pointed to Nashville, Tenn., an early entrant into the program. Since 2003, the city has cut
You may use or reference this story with attribution and a link to