Recently the Youngs-town Police Department announced a partnership with Behavioral Analysis & Intelligence Resources (BAIR) Analytics to provide online crime mapping technology to the general public.
Crime mapping is not a new concept. According to Borden Dent’s “Brief History of Crime Mapping,” the origin of crime mapping dates back over 180 years to French authorities who created maps to show the relationship between educational levels and crime.
Police departments have utilized crime mapping for decades. The rather unsophisticated process of sticking colored pins into wall maps was a staple in police precincts nationwide. The advent of computers changed the way law enforcement analyzes crime data. Crime maps moved from inanimate objects that recorded criminal activity to interactive databases used to prevent crime.
Researchers who study the routine, situation and place of crime, advocate for a method of policing based on the collection and analysis of data. The data is mapped out and the police focus on specific areas known as hot-spots. Police then marshal resources to flood “hot” streets, blocks or neighborhoods with additional officers.
Cyber-based crime mapping, which less than 20 years ago seemed like science fiction, is today a keyboard click away from every Youngstown resident. According to The Vindicator citizens can view a map and grid with all the crimes in the area, sign up for neighborhood block-watch reports that automatically email a breakdown of recent crime activity, and submit an anonymous tip about a crime directly to the police department. BAIR even has a free smartphone application.
In addition to viewing the map, visitors to the website will be able to learn the details of each crime. Users can also sort through crimes based on the day of the week and the time of the day the offenses were committed.
The most noteworthy and successful use of crime mapping was demonstrated in New York City. Rudy Giuliani was elected mayor in 1992 and appointed William Bratton police commissioner. Bratton had been chief of NYC’s transit police and had used crime mapping to reduce crime in the city’s notorious subway system. The transit police’s mapping strategy evolved into a program known as Computerized Statistics or CompStat.
On a weekly basis, personnel from each of the NYC’s 76 police precincts compiled a statistical summary of the week’s crime complaints, arrests and citations, as well as a written report of significant cases, crime patterns and police activities. The data was presented in a crime mapping report.
CompStat is based on four guiding principles: Accurate and timely intelligence; effective tactics; rapid deployment; and relentless follow-up and assessment.
At weekly crime control strategy meetings information flowed between the department executives and the precinct commanders. The discussions were based on the statistical analysis and maps contained within the weekly reports. The results were staggering — NYC’s violent crime rate plummeted to a 40 year low.
Crime mapping has also been successfully implemented by the Pittsburgh Police Department. Today, all Pittsburgh streets are mapped enabling command staff and community officers to use maps and crime data to establish day-to-day operations. Police officials hold monthly meetings where all command staff review crime statistics and develop strategies for attacking specific problems.
Within five years of implementing crime mapping strategies the serious crime rate in Pittsburgh fell 41 percent.
Crime mapping in the public’s hands may be interesting to curious citizens or even useful to crime fighting neighborhood groups making decisions about the use of limited resources. In the hands of law enforcement, and used to its fullest potential, the benefits of crime mapping are almost limitless.
However, according to Sharon Chamard in The History of Crime Mapping and Its Use by American Police Departments, law enforcement agencies that underutilize crime mapping technology, especially smaller and midsize departments, tend to experience frustration and disenchantment with the system.
According to research, nearly half of all small to midsize police agencies that adopted crime mapping technology eventually stop using the crime fighting tool.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly and George and the former district attorney for Lawrence County. You can read his blog, The Cautionary Instruction, every Friday at www.post-gazette.com. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on twitter @MatthewTMangino.