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Data Sharing Fights Crime in the Desert

Mesa, Ariz., collaborates on a shared platform with in-state, out-of-state jurisdictions.

by / October 3, 2012
Officer Todd Reed of the Mesa Police Department reviews suspect information from his patrol car.

Touted on its website as one of America’s fastest-growing cities, Mesa, Ariz. — 15 miles outside of Phoenix — boasts a population nearing 500,000. Law enforcement in Mesa is increasing its crime-fighting odds with an analytics tool cited as evidence of a new trend in policing.

COPLINK, from IBM, is helping law enforcement agencies leverage many different data sets, linked across jurisdictions, to more effectively conduct police work. IBM Public Safety Director Mark Cleverly asserts that incorporating sophisticated data analytics into law enforcement is enabling a fundamental shift in policing, from reactive to proactive.

Citing reductions in crime in New York City and Memphis, Tenn., Cleverly maintains that wall maps with colored pushpins plotting crime activity are being replaced by more sophisticated tracking of crime activity.

“It isn’t just about this particular crime happened at this particular location. It might be this particular crime is associated with a certain time of day or a certain type of weather or a certain period in the year or when a certain kind of event is taking place,” Cleverly explained, in a YouTube video on predictive analytics. “And you can start to estimate what that set of conditions might mean for the likelihood of certain types of crime and other incidents taking place.”

Beyond the Local Jurisdiction

Bill Kalaf, executive director of intelligence-led Policing for the Mesa P.D., explained to Government Technology why data-sharing is such a valuable tool for law enforcement.

“The idea is to deliver the right information to officers, investigators or detectives at the right time to make a decision,” said Kalaf.

First deployed in Mesa in 2007, the software replaced a manual system that relied on calls back to dispatch for additional information about suspects. And dispatchers only had access to crime data within their borders.

A 20-year veteran of the Mesa Police Department, Public Information Officer Tony Landato described a case he was working on with the FBI several years ago, involving a band of drug dealers operating a multi-million dollar interstate shoplifting ring.

“What I had to do back then was call up each agency over the phone,” explained Landato. ”Then I would have to drive out to their will call, pick up the report and compile data that way. Now I can sit down at my desktop to run [information on] an individual, and I can choose how wide and far to spread that net in the same search from my computer.”

Growing List of Collaborators

Mesa’s intelligence-gathering system has gotten even more useful in recent years, as the force continues to add to the list of agencies it shares information with. The Mesa P.D. now collaborates with neighboring cities like Tempe and Chandler, sharing data with a total of 50 cities across the state.

Crossing borders, Mesa police also exchange data with agencies in other states, including California, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. Relationships with federal agencies include Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Kalaf reports that Mesa is exploring building an information-sharing bridge with East Coast law enforcement agencies, many of whom currently share data using LInX (Law enforcement Information Exchange) software from Northrup Grumman.

Citing a reduction in crime from use of COPLINK, there are currently four data warehouses across Arizona running the program. Officers find it especially useful to be able to conduct advanced searches, allowing them to plug in multiple criteria, as opposed to just searching for information on a specific suspect.

“What I can do now is go in and find any crimes where a suspect of a certain description committed a certain type of crime, using a certain kind of vehicle. It can search it all at the same time and zero in on prospective suspects,” said Landato. “Using these multiple entries, you can greatly reduce your investigative time.”

In the first quarter of 2012 alone, Mesa Police conducted 1.25 million transactions using the system.

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Noelle Knell Editor

Government Technology editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.

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