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Building a new window into crime

Building a new window into crime

By mashing together search, BI and mapping, police can now gather real-time crime data from multiple agencies with crime records and incident reports

By combining business intelligence and two foundations of Web 2.0 -- search and mapping -- a police department in the US state of Kentucky has built a brand-new window into crime. This Web-based BI portal allows patrol officers to enter data -- or even pieces of data such as a few numbers from a license plate -- into a simple search interface and retrieve information from their own databases and those of neighboring towns.

For the past several years, officials in Erlanger, Kentucky, had been planning a project to consolidate fire and police department communications for more than a dozen communities into Erlanger's communications center. However, the Erlanger Police Department didn't have a way to tap into the records management systems of 19 separate government agencies in order to search and analyze information about suspects, reported incidents, arrests and crimes. And even though Erlanger had been manually mapping crimes based on its own data for three years, the task was time-consuming, and the mapping wasn't available in real time. Moreover, other communities' departments hadn't done any crime mapping, says Marc Fields, Erlanger's chief of police.

One search product was able to search Erlanger's own records management system, but it couldn't search the systems operated by the other agencies. It also didn't provide BI analysis or meet the mapping requirements for the project.

After failing to find a single product to automate the entire crime mapping and analysis process, Fields and his colleagues accepted an offer from the local planning department to use its tools: Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) geomapping tools and WebFocus BI software from Information Builders.

They completed the system by adding an open-source search appliance from Apache Lucene and an Information Builders tool called WebFocus Magnify, which compiles structured and unstructured data references into an index that can easily be searched by an appliance. Magnify then uses metadata about the structured data to categorize search results to give users a better context and relevancy for queries.

By mashing together search, BI and mapping, the new Web-based system combines real-time crime data from multiple agencies with crime records and incident reports stretching back five years to link information about suspects, incidents and arrests. In July, the Erlanger police department rolled out the system to 150 patrol officers, who can access it from displays in their cars powered by cellular signals.

"[Magnify] was really able to capture both of the goals -- to more completely search our records management systems and at the same time... to create maps and information that officers could use to more efficiently go about their daily activities," says Steve Castor, manager of the communications center. "[Officers] can see over the last 24 hours where calls have occurred and compare crime stats against last year's data and this year's data."

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