Why Location Matters for Police: And Five Ways Your Agency Can Leverage It
Any officer who has pursued a suspect down a dark alley or lonely back road knows that location matters. When pursuing a suspect in a vehicle or on foot, everything can change in seconds and the officer's last known location may no longer be accurate. In high-pressure situations, officers may struggle to share accurate location information as they engage in a chase or attempt to effect an arrest on a noncooperative offender.
It happened recently in Marshall, Wisconsin. A Marshall Police Department officer pursued a crime suspect from a city park into a nearby neighborhood. As the officer got close, he attempted to grab the suspect, and during the struggle, the officer fell and was injured, making him unable to continue the pursuit. Though he was injured, the officer was able to radio for assistance and describe his location. The offender was later captured, but this story highlights the risks inherent every time an officer engages in a foot pursuit or is unable to communicate their location. What if the officer's radio had been rendered inoperable or his injury made him unable to speak? His last known location in the park may have provided a starting point, but it certainly didn't tell backup officers where the pursuit had ended. Alone in the dark and injured, the officer's risk increased dramatically as he waited for help to arrive.
This is just one example of why location matters for police, as nearly everything we do has location associated with it. Consider daily activities such as responding to calls for service, conducting investigations, making traffic stops, engaging in directed patrols, and serving warrants. During all of these activities, officers are either responding to a location or generating a location when a stop is initiated. At the same time, police have become more reliant than ever on technology to help keep communities and officers safer. Devices have now become another source of location information, as they are constantly collecting and generating location information. Nearly every piece of technology modern police are using is also a sensor that collects location information. This includes smartphones, body-worn cameras, automatic vehicle location (AVL) technology, automated license plate readers (ALPR), public and private camera systems, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems—the list goes on.
The problem with all this location information is that none of it is connected or easily accessible for decision-making. Data is stored in siloed record management systems, databases, and disparate sensor systems.
How GIS Can Help
Geographic information system (GIS) technology can help police agencies overcome data challenges by using the location information inherent in their existing databases and sensor systems. By harnessing the power of location, police agencies can integrate and make sense of all the data that heretofore had been disconnected and unavailable for decision-making. A modern GIS is a foundational law enforcement technology that works as a system integrator and delivers powerful analytics via interactive dashboards, mobile apps for field personnel, and public-facing websites to engage the public.
Your agency is probably already using GIS for crime analysis and as part of your computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. But you might not know that GIS maps and apps are being used by thousands of police agencies globally every day to support many other missions including these:
- Data-driven policing strategies
- Field mobility
- Intelligence analysis
- Investigative support
- Open and transparent policing
- Real-time operations
- Special event management
- Tactical planning
- Traffic safety
Five Ways Your Agency Can Benefit from GIS
Let's take a look at just five of the ways your agency can leverage your existing GIS investment to support current workflows in new and innovative ways and help your agency decrease response times and crime, become more accountable, and keep the community and officers safer:
Crime and Intelligence Analysis
Crime analysts have been using GIS to map crime incidents and visualize patterns using hot spots for decades, helping police make better informed decisions about when and where to deploy resources. But the GIS technology of today supports much more advanced analytical workflows. Some of the newest capabilities include integration and aggregation of data from multiple sources and formats. The ability to perform spatial, temporal, and relational data analyses includes link, cell phone, and repeat and near-repeat analyses. Analysts can visualize and share their work with digital maps, link charts, and graphs that can be viewed in interactive dashboards and mobile apps that work on any device.
Data-Driven Policing Strategies
GIS supports modern policing strategies including Compstat as well as intelligence-led, evidence-based, and problem-oriented policing. For a strategy to work properly, all assigned personnel need to know their roles and responsibilities and get relevant and timely intelligence and analysis. Area commanders need the ability to identify problems and assign resources to problems. Officers need to see assignments and collect and share data from the field. Command staff need to evaluate mission success and review key performance indicators (KPIs). GIS can drive any crime-control strategy, from identification of the initial problem to implementation and management of the entire strategy. With shared dashboards and maps and apps, all assigned personnel can see current problems and know their assignments, and accountability is maintained throughout.
Mobile GIS enables situational awareness in both the field and the operations center. Use location services to assign tasks, collect and edit data in the field; let officers find and see what's near them; and allow supervisors to see all personnel and asset locations in real time. If the need arises, make changes on the fly so that all team members are instantly updated with the latest information and assignments. All key mission data such as chat messages, photos, and location tracks can be documented and stored for after-action review and playback.
Special Event Management
Whether it is a festival, a sporting event, a parade, or a farmers market, communities rely on the police department to keep special events and attendees safe. GIS can be used to plan and monitor events of any size, and agencies are replacing paper-based plans with digital site and operations maps that become the basis for managing events in real time, conducting after-action review, and planning for the next event.
GIS is also helping agencies connect with the community by improving access to authoritative data and enabling collaborative problem-solving. With open data and community engagement apps, your agency can publish current and historic crime data, share use-of-force and agency demographics data, and partner with community stakeholders on evidence-based strategies to improve public safety.
Learn more about how GIS is being leveraged by law enforcement agencies around the world by visiting esri.com/LawEnforcement. And if you are attending the IACP Technology Conference, stop by Esri booth 109 and learn more about how your agency can get the most out of its GIS investment.
About the Authors
John Beck is the Director of Law Enforcement Solutions at Esri where he is responsible for helping police agencies worldwide understand and implement GIS for every mission. Before joining Esri, Beck was a police officer and crime analyst in Nevada. In his role at Esri, he helps police agencies apply GIS to crime analysis, strategic planning, patrol operations, investigative support, and citizen engagement. John has also worked with agencies to implement GIS for open and transparent policing and to tackle hard problems like the opioid epidemic and homelessness. He is also helping police realize the value of new geospatial technologies including machine learning and big data analysis to gain a real-time understand of crime patterns and make better informed decisions. John earned undergraduate degrees in geography and anthropology and a master’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Nevada.
Mike King is Director of Emergency Communications Solutions at Esri. Mike leads Esri’s global strategy for emergency communications and works with public safety commanders around the world. He retired at the rank of chief after a 28-year law enforcement career, including eight years with the Ogden City Police Department where he served in various capacities including patrol, investigations, and SWAT. He was trained by the FBI as a criminal profiler.