For a department the size of Floridas Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD), data can be a double-edged sword. Among the largest police departments in the Southeastern United States and employing nearly 3,000 officers and 1,700 civilians, the department relies on data to respond to the variety of problems that can occur in the community. But with information coming in by the minute from a variety of sources, data can quickly overwhelm MDPD, slowing organization of the information to an ineffective pace.

"It is important for managers and field people to get information quickly," said Ira Feuer, commander of the Systems Development Bureau at MDPD.

To address the problem, the department adopted business intelligence software.

From Many to One

MDPD selected business intelligence software from Ottawa, Canada-based Cognos Inc. According to Feuer, the choice of vendor was easy; the department was already using Cognos products and simply elected to add tools to the existing software to build their business intelligence framework.

Enterprise business intelligence suites, as defined in a study by the Gartner Group, "provide query, basic analysis, reporting, charting and light online analytic processing." The software can also access multiple heterogeneous data sources to combine data and allow it to be viewed in a number of ways.

MDPD feeds data from computer-aided dispatch, arrest reports, their geographic information system and offense incident reports into their system. Once the data has been fed into the business intelligence system, a variety of reports and forecasts become available. For example, the Juvenile Assessment Center has launched a study of recidivism among young offenders using , Intelligent Miner, IBMs data mining tool.

Feuer said ensuring the quality of the existing data has been one of the most difficult parts of the process.

Better Data, Faster

The use of business intelligence software has dramatically reduced MDPDs data turnaround time. In one dramatic instance, when the mayor wanted to make his semi-annual crime statistics address to the community in early July, he asked Feuers department to provide stats for the period between Jan. 1 and July 1. Before the software adoption, such statistics were available only on a quarterly basis through batch reports and often as much as three months behind. This time, the statistics were available by July 2.

But MDPD isnt using its data solely for reporting. It also uses it to better serve the community. For example, arrest and offense incident data can be aggregated to produce reports identifying crime trends in specific areas, such as a rash of robberies in a neighborhood. The department can then make better decisions about increasing coverage in that area or being on the lookout for crimes that fit the profile. This project is made possible through the power of data mining, which allows the department to draw on 12 years worth of historical data to identify and even predict crime trends.

And this is not the end of the possibilities for better use of data at MDPD. Feuer said the department plans to make some aggregate data available to the general public. "Well do a citizen survey -- what would they like to see," he said.

For example, the public may indicate that it wants to see data about crime statistics by neighborhood. If that is the case, the department will replicate data on the public side of the firewall and delete sensitive information such as offender name and specifics listed on the arrest report, said Feuer. The public would then be able to view aggregate crime statistics about an area before purchasing a home or forming a neighborhood watch.

Within two years, Feuer plans for the department to "go as paperless as we can" by equipping officers with laptop computers that will allow them to input data while in the field. The project will not be cheap: Equipping the first thousand cars and installing a new computer-aided dispatch system will cost an estimated $13 million.

But Feuer has enthusiasm on his side. Area courts and judges are encouraging the justice system to pursue the paperless path. And the department has been equally enthusiastic. "Were not encountering resistance," he said.