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Crime Data Quality and Validation – A Necessity for Every Agency

Accurate Mapping is The Epicenter for Making Sense of Your Crime Data

Let’s talk about mapping. Very few mapping systems, whether you are using GIS or some other type of mapping system, are always spot on. The reasons for these inaccuracies vary widely. From inaccurate GIS mapping at the onset, to duplicate addresses in your city that are only separated by a North-South or East-West designation, or simply a user data-entry mistake. Previously, I couldn’t change these map points in my records management system, nor did I have admin over the county GIS system that would allow me to change the points. However, I can now change them with CommandCentral. Recently, PublicEngines released a new feature dubbed the Data Quality and Validation tool, or DQV for short. With just a few steps I am now able to take my map, with an average of 150 inaccuracies a month, and turn it into a completely accurate crime map, with no inaccuracies.

How My Data Accuracy Quest Began

When I began the intelligence unit at my agency in the greater Atlanta area, one of the things I noticed first off was how inaccurate our crime mapping system seemed to be. As I began looking into the problem, I found that instead of it being the result of a single error, it was actually the result of a myriad of errors. Among those, were inaccurate geocoding, areas of my city that had been annexed in but not yet geocoded, duplicate addresses within my city, and of course data entry mistakes.

Now as you can imagine, as I began to remedy this situation I felt a little like a dog chasing its tail — I was certainly moving but I wasn’t making any progress. During one staff meeting, it became even more apparent that I needed to do something about the mapping inaccuracies when we began looking at crimes broken down by zone specifics.  We looked for crimes that we knew had occurred in a certain zone so that we could speak about them as a command staff and form a tactical action plan. But when we began searching for them, we weren’t able to find the specific crimes. As I began searching within my RMS to locate these “lost” crimes, I found them all mapped outside of my city boundaries. Many of these “lost” crimes were plotted tens, hundreds, and even thousands of miles away from where they should have been.  We had a serious problem to say the least, and unfortunately, no solution.

Fast-forward to my time at PublicEngines. One of the key drivers in developing the DQV tool was the research that I conducted in proactively auditing our customer’s databases. I found very quickly that my agency, with 150 mis-maps a month, was by far not on its own. The vast majority of agencies have mapping problems that they are either not aware of, or lack the to ability to fix. This is why I am so excited to introduce to you the DQV tool. Not only will you be able to identify all occurrences mapped outside of your jurisdictional boundaries, but you will be able to correct those errors in just a few steps.

A New Solution to An Age-Old Problem

crime data, crime data qualtiyAs I’m sure you can attest, accurate data is paramount to conducting crime analysis that leads to actionable intelligence and crime reduction. The DQV tool in CommandCentral ensures that the most common data errors – mis-mapped and mis-classified crimes – are easily correctable so agency personnel can make resource decisions with confidence.

Here are a few highlights of its capabilities.

  • Built-in alert bar notifies CommandCentral Analytics administrators when incidents are geocoded outside of an agency’s jurisdiction.
  • Click-to-correct mismapped incidents – inaccurately mapped crimes can be corrected simply by clicking on the CommandCentral Map
  • Create rules so that all future data synched to CommandCentral is mapped accurately
  • Edit crime incident categorization
  • Maintain data fidelity – changes are only made in CommandCentral, not in your RMS

Identifying mis-mapped crimes is as easy as selecting an Out of Area button in the system’s administration section. The tool then generates a list of occurrences that were all mapped outside of your jurisdictional boundaries. You can select any single occurrence listed to see where it’s currently positioned on the map, and then override it. This process is easy: simply select where that occurrence should be mapped. You can change the pin for this specific incident only or for all incidents previously mis-mapped in the same manner — which is especially important when it is one of those addresses that are constantly in error.

Visualizing and analyzing crime data through crime mapping solutions has been an essential tool in every agency’s arsenal since the mid 1800’s with the advent of the pin-map. Today, online tools make the task easier than ever. But the question remains, is the data you’re viewing accurate? With the DQV tool you can now be sure of it.

Four Steps To Effectively Using Crime Data in Law Enforcement

It’s no secret that law enforcement agencies are consistently being asked to do more with fewer resources. Budget cuts have meant fewer feet on the street and ever increasing demands on agencies and officers alike. To meet these growing demands, many agencies are increasingly relying on technology to fill that gap.

There are four important steps to make sure that you’re using data to its fullest potential.

1. Collecting the data

The fact of the matter is there is a plethora of data available. Useful data may include department-specific information such as:

  • Recent bookings
  • Various types of crimes that have been committed
  • Calendar of when crimes occurred
  • Maps of where illegal activities took place
  • Written citations

However, according to Doug Wylie, Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, some cities take it a step further to include a much greater holistic view of the community a department serves to include everything from utilities and social services records to new building permits.

2 . Accurate Data

Recently, one big city police department announced it would no longer be releasing monthly crime reports because the Excel files they used to distribute the information were being corrupted. Someone had been changing the data the public viewed. This follows the accusations a couple of years ago that the New York Police Department had been falsifying data.

Audits by PublicEngines reveals that up to 25% of all law enforcement data housed in RMS or CAD systems is not accurately recorded.

However, there are ways to improve data accuracy. According to a recent report, some of the variables that agencies should consider include:

  • Data that is correctly captured. This is crucial because there are myriad of codes, statutes and other minor details that allow for human error. Information can be mislabeled or mapped incorrectly. Regular review and comparison can help catch errors and ensure greater accuracy.
  • Quality report writing that includes correct classifications, a built-in multiple-level review processes, and a system to all for reclassification, supplements and follow-up reports to be reviewed, approved and added.
  • Regular audits of reports to verify accuracy. This might also include periodic surveys of randomly selected citizens, who have reported criminal activity to verify your records accurately reflect the facts as they were reported.

3. Adequately Interpreted Data

Those agencies with analysts rely on these hard-working people to identify crime trends. But they’re stretched thin. The ability for officers to predict crimes not only relieves some of the pressure on analysts, it also helps reduce crime. Access to this information is the key factor.

But with sheer amount of data now being gathered, is there room to interpret it in a way that predicts even more crime?

Take some of the non-criminal data that agencies are gathering that was mentioned by PoliceOne’s Wylie. An officer knows that construction sites often experience the theft of materials, vandalism and graffiti. If he also knows from new building permits that construction is under way in several projects, redirecting himself to those areas can significantly reduce the potential for those crimes.

4.Getting data into hands of those that take action

As the above example illustrates, when officers on the street have access to data, they can act accordingly. However, that can prove a challenge.

Products like CommandCentral Predictive, work to eliminate those challenges. Since it’s cloud-based, it is available literally anywhere it is needed so long as an Internet connected device is available. Reports can even be sent directly to officers via email automatically.

Officers in the field are hardly desk jockeys, which is why allowing them to access the information while in the field via their mobile phone or tablet is so important. It can literally be the difference between a crime being prevented and a crime occurring.

Data is available – maybe even too much data is available – but there are ways to harness that information to help predict and prevent crime. Collecting that data from a wide variety of sources, ensuring its accuracy and interpreting its value are important first steps. However, utilizing technology – getting this information to officers wherever they may be – allows them to predict crime and make the streets safer for everyone.

Predictive Analytics Where it Matters: Preventing Crime

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Today there is a lot of buzz about the use of predictive analytics in business.  Spurred in part by the best selling book, Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie or Die, by Eric Siegel, it seems that everyone is talking about ways to predict every major and minor event in our lives.

As with every application of technology, there are implementations that can have a higher, or lower impact on society.  At PublicEngines, we have long believed in the application of analytics to improving quality of life in general, and specifically to fighting crime.  That’s why we were pleased to announce our newest product last week: CommandCentral Predictive.

CommandCentral Predictive is a significant step forward in the use of predictive analytics to accomplishing law enforcement’s goal of preventing crime and improving our communities by making them safer.  In particular, from the time we conceived this product through to its final development, there were two things that were most important to us: accuracy and ease-of-use.

Pre-eminent in our thought process was to create a product that accurately predicts potential crime.  The entire basis of this product is to more accurately digest data and provide an accurate, unbiased view of the highest probability of crime on a daily basis.  So, the science behind it had to be sound.   That’s why we designed our prediction engine using multiple algorithms to optimize its effectiveness and verified it with extensive field-testing.

Of almost equal importance to us was to design the product with the highest ease of use.  It doesn’t matter how good the product is, if the interface isn’t easy to navigate,  it won’t be used.  So, we designed the product from the start with the idea that users need to be able to jump in the product right from the beginning with little to no training.  Then, we took that design to officers, analysts, and command staff, and asked for their input on how to make it better and we redesigned it based on their feedback (more on this in another post).  The result is something that is functional and highly usable; delivering a daily report in a way that any officer can use to improve the way they police.

With an announcement of a product like this there is no doubt that naysayers will voice their opinions.  In particular, we’ve heard those who will say that advanced crime analytics software can’t replace crime analysts.  And they are right.  That’s not our intent.  However, we know how much time analysts have and where their demands are.  Analysts spend a significant amount of time working with officers and patrol supervisors on their areas of patrol responsibility.  They’ve told us they’re overwhelmed with more work than they can handle.  CommandCentral Predictive is designed to help them take a significant demand and essentially automate the prediction of high-probability events and give them more time for analysis.  For those agencies without an analyst (a majority), this is a significant boost by giving them the tactical, directed analysis their officers need but can’t currently afford.

Others may cite instances where software has not worked well at making predictions, such as the military’s use of prediction software to forecast political unrest.  But what we have seen is that, like what you purchase, where you shop, or what you look at online, crime occurs, for the most part, in a repeatable, predictable pattern.  And our field-testing has shown that our algorithms are far more accurate in seeing both long- and short-term trends, modeling them, and learning and improving along the way.  In fact, this very field-testing has show us to be, on average, 2.7 times more accurate than traditional hotspot models at determining where the next crimes will occur.

Tim O’Reilly, the well-known media technologist, once said, “We’re entering a new world in which data may be more important than software.”  I think this is especially true in law enforcement, where enforcement officers have the data to help themselves, but have traditionally struggled through poor software tools to help them analyze it.  So, while we are proud and excited about CommandCentral Predictive, what we are most excited about is this product’s potential to unlock the patterns and intelligence in agency’s data and helping them to make better and more effective policing decisions.

Timely Crime Data that is Easy to Interpret Leads to Better Law Enforcement Decisions

Organizations of all types, especially law enforcement agencies, are being buried in Big Data. As defined by Wikipedia, the term Big Data  represents data so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process.

The same problem can also referred to as Information Overload, and aside from the technical challenges to Big Data, too much information can be difficult to access, store, share, and be useful. In today’s more electronic world, we aren’t in jeopardy of being buried in paper – rather the biggest threat of all is that the data goes unused.

Useful information leads to better knowledge, and thus better decision-making.  A typical approach to managing data and information can be:

  1. Collect raw data
  2. Sort into useful information
  3. Analyze information
  4. Share findings
  5. Information is turned into useful knowledge

The Information Sharing Environment (ISE) provides vital information about terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and homeland security to analysts, operators, and investigators in the U.S. government. From ISE’s Website:

A fundamental component of effective enterprise-wide information sharing, for example, is the use of information systems that regularly capture relevant data and make it broadly available to authorized users in a timely and secure manner.

While focused on activities mostly related to terrorism, ISE acknowledges its ideas of data sharing are extremely effective in local law enforcement as well.

In law enforcement, timely and accurate information is vital; as untimely or inaccurate information simply causes problems. PublicEngines audits show that up to 25% of all law enforcement data housed in RMS or CAD systems in the average agency is not accurate – often mislabeled or improperly mapped. This can lead to a poor allocation of resources and confusion.

However, some agencies struggle with sharing relevant and timely information at all. Time spent reporting, analyzing, and distributing information can be tedious, and time-consuming. And with up to 59% of agencies stating there is a lack of staff for crime analysis, it’s no surprise the critical information is often not shared.

The lessons are clear – sharing data that is relevant, timely, and easy to interpret, is an effective way to become more efficient in law enforcement.

PublicEngines recently announced it has added Email Reports to its widely popular CommandCentral Analytics solution. You can read the announcement here: PublicEngines Launches Email Reports for CommandCentral

Creating more tools that allow for easier sharing of critical information is a step in the right direction of tackling this challenge of too much information for law enforcement. This is especially true when the information shared is easy-to-read and interpret. The more people that have access to timely and valuable information, the better law enforcement decisions will be made.

So, how is timely and relevant information shared at your agency? Do you have an internal process, meeting, or technology solution that works particularly well for you? Let us know in the comments section.