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Enterprise search technology gives police the edge on criminals

One local police department is using enterprise search and mapping tools to arm its officers with perhaps their most important weapon: information.

Like most local law enforcement agencies, the Erlanger Police Department in Kentucky collects plenty of crime-related data, most often in the form of police reports written by officers after arrests and other incidents. Now, enterprise search technology and mapping tools actually let officers find and use that data.

Until recently, crime-related data like witness statements "would go into the narrative of the report, where it would be lost forever because the narrative is a free text area, and it was very difficult for our records system to pull that back out," said Steve Castor, head of IT at the department.

Only those officers with a "high-level" understanding of the system could easily search for specific data within the reports. "Your average road officer had no chance of getting it," Castor said.

That all changed a little over a year ago when the department deployed enterprise search technology from Information Builders that officers could access on laptops in their cruisers. The deployment was part of a larger initiative to merge communication systems with other cities in the county, including nine police departments and 10 fire/EMS departments.

Data integration software from iWay, an Information Builders subsidiary, draws and indexes report data stored in the department's SQL Server database every 30 seconds, Castor said. Officers in the field simply enter a search term in a Google-like interface on their laptops, and the system returns all relevant police reports on file. Search terms can be specific, like an address or license-plate number, or general, like a type of crime.

"[An officer might] search 'car break-in,' and [he] would get a response in a format that [he] understood because it is a Google-type return, but beyond that, in the left-hand margin of our return, is a filtered breakdown that the officer can understand," Castor said. The filters include type of report, date of report, and arrests and are customized with police officer "lingo."

Previously, officers would have to request a search of reports from the department's IT department, which they would get in the form of print-outs, sometimes pages long, days or even weeks later, Castor said.

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"So now, right there in the car in a few moments, I can get the last 30 days' worth of information on car break-ins," he said. "I can actually click on that and see the actual report written by the officer, so I can see what he had to say. Did he have any suspects? What really went on?"

In addition, the department is using mapping technology from ESRI to track the previous 24 hours' worth of report data to help officers coming on shift understand what type of activity occurred recently. The maps, which -- like the search tool -- are available to officers in their cruisers, plot crime activity by location to help officers spot trends, a function that previously took place back at the station, sometimes using paper maps and colored push-pins.

The maps help an officer determine "where I'm going to be needed," Castor said. "I can see that there's a string of car break-ins here, burglaries there, so this is where I need to focus my attention," he said. Having seen an officer leave the force last year and not be replaced -- partly for budgetary reasons -- supervisors can better allocate officers and make do with fewer resources with the help of the mapping technology.

Before implementing the search and mapping technologies, officers in the field were virtually cut off from such information -- unable, for instance, to connect a crime in one area to a similar crime in an adjacent area. They also often lacked the most up-to-date information when arriving at crime scenes.

An officer responding to a domestic dispute, for example, may warn the suspect that he or she will be arrested if the officer is called back, but then there's a shift change. "As the next officer on shift, I don't know about that, and I also say next time I come I'm going to arrest somebody. Well, the next time somebody gets hurt because it continued to escalate," Castor said.

"That's the biggest thing that search gives us: real-time access to our records so we can see what really has gone on, what people have been involved in," he added. "And we can make quicker determinations and get things solved."

Castor said he hopes to add more business intelligence-based capabilities in the years ahead, including more sophisticated predictive analytics to help the department stop crimes before they even occur. For now, though, he doesn't want to overwhelm officers with too many new technologies to learn.

"The younger officers took to it quickly because they've been around computers all their life," Castor said. "The older ones, it was a big learning curve for them…. Now I'm asking them to open programs, change things, do searches on their own, do research on their own. That's been a big adjustment for them."


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