The Erlanger Police Department counts in its ranks roughly 40 sworn officers and serves a population of approximately 17,000 residents in northwestern Kenton County, Kentucky. Located astride a major freeway interchange (I-75 and I-275), Erlanger is a bedroom community just ten short miles (and a handful of bridges) south of the Ohio River and downtown Cincinnati. While the waters of the Ohio tend to keep most gang-on-gang violence from encroaching on what the locals call “The Friendship City,” there is crime there, and officers at Erlanger PD take seriously their mission to fight that crime. Since mid-2008 Erlanger PD has been using information sharing software with powerful search technology to increase the department’s effectiveness.
Officer Steve Castor of the Erlanger Police Department took some time out of his busy day to tell PoliceOne about his agency’s decision to deploy Information Builders’ WebFOCUS Magnify software. The agency uses this solution to generate real-time search results for police officers in the field, as well as to provide detailed activity reports and analytics to command staff tasked with making decisions about staffing and patrol assignments.
Police agencies, Castor points out, are constantly capturing and collecting information. The problem lies in giving officers ongoing access to that information over time.
“We still [put] a lot of our information into the narrative area — the free-text box where the officer can state anything he needs to... Traditionally, that information is what we’ve found most useful, but also the hardest to gain back out of the system. Only really tech-savvy officers who have a high understanding of our RMS and our CAD systems could get that data back out. So we looked for a tool that any officer could get those things back out in a form where we really didn’t have to train them very much. What we liked about the simplicity of the WebFOUCS search tool was the fact that it looks a lot like Google. Even for our officers who [think] turning the computer on every day is a big accomplishment, they look at that and they know instantly what to do because it’s such a part of everyday life.”
Historically, Erlanger PD relied on in-house mapping and data systems while neighboring cities used other, unconnected systems. While bad guys commuted to commit their break-ins and burglaries across multiple jurisdictions, the information about their crimes stayed within the individual cities, out of reach of other law enforcers in the immediate area.
Erlanger PD first learned about WebFOCUS through a deployment Information Builders did with another of the city’s service departments. Castor explains, “Here in northern Kentucky we have what’s called the Area Planning Commission — their general function is to issue permits and make building zoning decisions. They had already purchased some of the items from [Information Builders] that we later leveraged against, so it wasn’t necessary for us to buy the whole thing from the ground up. We just added on the features that we needed to make that happen. There is a lot of [thought] in law enforcement that ‘We can’t share it with anybody — we’ve got to build everything from scratch.’ So there tends to be some redundancy involved. The economics of the situation these days is that we can’t afford to do that,” says Castor.
The Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution — meaning basically, that it resides on the Internet not on your computer itself — from Information Builders enables every one of ten local police agencies to share information seamlessly and in near-real time. It is important to note that it’s used at every level of the chain of command. The patrol officer can access the database on the MDT in the squad car, getting information as simple or as detailed as they desire. Patrol Sergeants and Lieutenants get detailed reports containing all the activity in the area from the 12-18 hours immediately leading up to their shift.
The Chief of Police receives a 24-hour summary report of the preceding day’s activities — not just in his department but in every jurisdiction in the system — delivered to his BlackBerry every morning. This way, while he’s still at home with his first cup of coffee, he can prepare for that inevitable question from the mayor or the city council member— typically asked in the hallway before he’s even had time to turn on his computer in the morning: “What are you doing about that [fill-in-the-blank-here] that happened last night? While the Chief may not have a complete answer, at least he knows that the thing happened, and is not caught completely off guard by the question.
Using the system is about as simple as a Google search, or can be as involved as some of the most sophisticated business analytics software on the market. Officers can enter a brief search string and be given header information followed by a narrative about the incidents in the order that they occurred. Drilling down, officers can obtain reports that list all the pertinent information about each incident.
“The most common search that an officer would do on the system is a person search, based upon contact they have at a traffic stop. We like to utilize it as a tool to change that from a moving violation into an investigative stop, and you do that by gaining more information on the person or the vehicle at the stop. Our traditional approach prior might be to write a ticket for that moving violation and move on, unless there just happened to be somebody on the shift who over the radio heard a particular name or vehicle, who then related their own knowledge of involvement to that officer. Generally these were fairly significant incidences but the fairly low-level crimes, that information just couldn’t find a priority space in roll calls. These may not be at the top level of the crimes, but they’re important.”
Among those crimes Erlanger PD has increased its effectiveness against are hit-and-run violations and shoplifting offenses. “These are crimes that the officer who takes the report is well aware of, but beyond that, it begins, as the hours pass, to lose its significance. And that’s where we’d lose the data in our reporting. Once the report is filed and in the system, it was usually gone forever. Now we’re able to bring it back out.”
All cities and agencies connected to the system input their respective police record data — officers can also enter notes into the system directly from the field — which then becomes available to everyone else on the system. This is particularly important in places like Erlanger, where there are ten agencies that either overlap or share common borders. The Erlanger PD system runs on a SQL 2005 database, but Castor explains that surrounding departments do not need to change their own database systems to match theirs — the solution operates on myriad major platforms including Windows, Linux, UNIX, and IBM i (System i, AS/400) and System z (mainframe, including MVS and OS/390). This capability protects existing technology investments and minimizes support and maintenance costs.
Castor adds, “We’ve begun to look for solutions and for devices that are smaller form factors that the officer can naturally carry on them but still access the same system. We’ve tested the BlackBerry and it seems to be that platform and technology is helping us have a bigger bandwidth pipe for that to happen. Sprint is our wireless partner and we’re just about to complete a deal that’s going to make it a reality for even our patrol officers to carry the BlackBerry with them all the time.”
In addition to putting BlackBerry devices into the hands of each police officer, Erlanger this year plans to connect the entire system to its BioKey deployment and also hopes to add more jurisdictions from the surrounding area. PoliceOne will be back in touch with Castor and the rest of the officers of Erlanger PD in coming months to check in on their progress.
What is your department doing to use information sharing and search technology to work more effectively in your area? Add your comments below or send us an e-mail.