Philadelphia credits smart policing for lower crime rates

Wed, 2014-07-02 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has fewer officers patrolling the streets, yet crime is down and the number of murders has fallen to the lowest rate in nearly 50 years. The police commissioner credits the city’s smart policing strategies.

There, “smart” policing actually stands for Strategic Mapping Analysis Response and Tactics, which describes the city’s efforts to collect and analyze data so that it can use its limited resources where they will have the biggest impact. 

The program looks at where crime is occurring in the city and attempts to determine why. By uncovering underlying issues, such as gang and drug activity, the police can target and address the root causes of the problem. Without data, it would be difficult to develop effective strategies. 

A number of other cities are also looking to new systems and technologies to make their police departments more effective. 

Tool lets detectives easily digitize crime scenes
Some police officers in California’s Simi Valley are trading tape measures for a new laser device that generates computer models of crime and accident scenes.

The FARO 3D laser scanner allows officers to capture a full 360-degree view of scenes they are investigating, which they can then view in many more ways later. In Simi Valley, police are already using it to analyze vehicle crashes. The amount of data captured allows detectives to view accidents from different vantage points, including the points-of-view of the drivers involved.

The department also plans to start using it to investigate violent crimes. For instance, the scanner can determine bullet trajectory. The tool can then use the images it captured to generate a video of the bullet’s path from the perspective of both the suspect and the victim.

“It’s a phenomenal tool,” Howard Horwitz, officer with the Simi Valley Police Department, told the Ventura County Star. “You can almost bring the jury inside the room where the crime happened.”

New Miami networks zoom in on crimes
The city of Miami is pairing a network of up to 400 cameras with another network of sensors that can detect and pinpoint gunfire within seconds after the shots are fired.

The gunfire detection system is called ShotSpotter and has had mixed results. In Miami-Dade County, police gave up on the system, claiming that 95% of the incidents it reported were false alarms.

Oakland, Calif., has been using the same system since 2006 and hasn’t had that issue. Police there talked about scrapping the system since nearly every incident it identified was followed moments later by a citizen call reporting the same thing. In the end, the city voted to keep ShotSpotter since residents of crime-prone areas said it made them feel safer.

Miami’s twist on the system is to pair ShotSpotter with a network of cameras monitored in a new command center. The network would include red light and other existing cameras, as well as a number of new cameras that can zoom in from great distances. Police could identify a person of interest and follow them on other cameras in the network.

Meanwhile in Boston, a major technology update will integrate its various systems on a modern map-based interface. The city also uses the ShotSpotter system, but when shots were detected dispatchers had to manually type in the location on a different system to send officers to check it out. The new dispatching system will get automatic feeds from ShotSpotter.

Additionally, the old text-based interface that required dispatchers to remember archaic commands has been replaced with a live map, showing dispatchers where the calls, incidents and police officers are. Police officers in the field will also be able to view criminal records electronically.

Some Florida residents will get more public safety info
Smart policing efforts aren’t just directed at police. A new system in Cape Coral, Florida, strives to provide the public with more safety information and hopefully improve the relationship with police in the process.

The city is developing a new app called Ping4Alerts that can notify residents to stay indoors if a police SWAT team is working nearby, or to be on the lookout for a missing child. Citizens can also use the app to send in anonymous tips.

More on smart policing…

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