As an academic researcher at Columbia University in 2003, Tracy Weber used GIS to study the effects of Agent Orange and other herbicides on soldiers who served in Vietnam.
Today, as director of grants and interagency coordinator at the New York City Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence (OCDV), Weber applies the same technology to protect city residents against domestic abuse.
Stopping Domestic Violence
New York City voters created the OCDV in 1991 through an amendment to the city charter to address domestic violence issues. Working with a variety of city agencies, community organizations, health-care providers and others, the OCDV creates policies and programs, monitors the delivery of domestic violence services, and raises awareness of the problem.
"There are only a few other cities that have a Mayor-level office or department specifically looking at domestic violence," Weber said. "The mayor is very supportive of the work we do. When I came to this office, I was always looking for an opportunity to showcase the data we had using mapping."
At first, Weber said she relied on colleagues in other city departments to analyze her data in their GIS systems. That, however, was a cumbersome process, and she didn't want to impose on other agencies' time.
In 2004, Weber's office received a set of GIS software packages through the MapInfo e-Government Grant Program. MapInfo, based in Troy, N.Y., offers software grants to highlight ways GIS can be used in mainstream business applications, said John McCarthy, the company's director of public sector sales.
Agencies awarded grants from the e-Government Grant Program received MapInfo Professional, the company's desktop application; MapMarker, its geocoding software; enhanced geographic data, such as detailed street data; and MapInfo Discovery, a tool for publishing the results from a map analysis on an intranet or Internet server.
MapInfo Discovery makes it easy to provide the results of an analysis to viewers inside or outside an organization, said Nathan Lobban, MapInfo's account manager for the public sector.
"It allows these other people who aren't experts to be part of that process and benefit from the analysis," Lobban said.
Since this was the same GIS software Weber used at Columbia, she rapidly adapted it to her new mission. She started using the applications to study patterns of domestic violence reported throughout the city; analyze the effectiveness of domestic violence outreach programs; and offer easy-to-understand presentations to city agencies, nonprofit organizations and elected officials.
Along with the data MapInfo provided, Weber obtained substantial geographic information -- data on streets, boundaries, congressional districts and other items -- from New York's Department of City Planning. Since City Planning also used MapInfo software, Weber simply downloaded those files from a Web server.
Weber imported data related to OCDV activities from her own management system using Microsoft Excel, as well as data on domestic violence complaints received at each police precinct.
One analysis Weber performed with the GIS is quantifying the number of domestic incident reports (DIRs) each precinct receives during a given period.
Shading on the map makes it easy to compare results. On a borough of Queens map, for example, precincts that received the fewest DIRs might be a white or a light shade, she said. The more calls a precinct receives, the darker it appears.
Capabilities like this help the OCDV plan its activities. Weber uses the system to compare which precincts have the most DIRs or the most reported homicides, and which areas of the city, by ZIP code, generate the most calls to the New York City Domestic Violence Hotline.
"It's really interesting for me to see where these incidents are either being reported to the police or called into the hot line, as