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Data Analytics Helps Fight Crime in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The new analytics tool developed by IBM allows the Police Department to pull public data from across city departments and outside sources to help stop crime before it happens.

Stopping crime before it happens may sound like the plot of a fictitious drama TV series, but the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Police Department has deployed a new analytics tool to make the concept a reality.

Earlier this month, the Police Department began piloting a data analysis tool, developed by IBM, that can harness information beyond what’s typically within reach for local law enforcement. Traditionally public safety agencies focus on gathering data from criminal justice databases to help with operations like solving crimes, said Jim Lingerfelt, a senior consultant with IBM's Global Smarter Cities team.

Now, using the system the police will be able to access and analyze data that concentrates on areas including traffic, transportation, permits and social media, in addition to studying information like 911 call records.

“We’re entering a new era of police work where advances in technology are providing us with an additional tool to use in our crime prevention efforts,” said Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderley in a statement. “Integrating advanced data analysis into our operational strategies will help us maximize resources and stay one step ahead of the criminals.”

To develop a more comprehensive analytics tool, a team from IBM began working with the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department in January to acquire public data sets from city departments that may be instrumental in helping to reduce crime. From there, the team collaborated with the Police Department to determine the best way to “filter and interpret” the data so that it can be tailored to an officer’s needs.

“It’s also enabling them to run this data through a process that ‘cleans’ the data so that they can eliminate redundancies,” Lingerfelt said.

Since the pilot launched, nearly 30 police staff members can now access and filter down the data by viewing it through specialized dashboards. Staff like patrol officers, patrol supervisors, commanders and the police chief can access the platform on a daily basis to help better perform their duties.

Going Beyond Traditional Police Data

Because the tool pulls from a large pool of data sets, Lingerfelt said the department can work to reduce crime with the assistance of nontraditional police resources, including U.S. census data.

For example, the police now have access to public data on city building and renovation permit activity. Officers with access to that data can be alerted about new projects undergoing construction and keep watch for possible crime that is often correlated with such projects like theft of materials. 
Not only can the analytics tool assist with helping prevent crime, but in the long term, Lingerfelt said using the data could help the police and other city officials closely watch how a neighborhood changes, and from there allocate budget and resources that properly focus on those changing geographic areas.

And in some cases, the tool may help prevent an isolated incident like a potential riot. By using analytics to monitor the behavior of a crowd in combination with integrating information culled from social media sites, officers could identify a possible safety situation and disperse a mob with the assistance of a few police units. Lingerfelt said in cases like these, the police can prevent the situation from turning into a full-blown riot, and in turn, save the city millions of dollars in repair and recovery costs.

The larger impact of harnessing a more comprehensive set of data will eventually spread across the city. According to Lingerfelt, Fort Lauderdale officials plan to expand the analytics solution to include all city departments in the future.

Sarah Rich is a former staff writer for Government Technology.