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Business intelligence case study: Gartner lauds police for crime-fighting BI

Hannah Smalltree, News Writer
In just a few years, business intelligence (BI) has gone from a novel experiment to a normal way of life for the Richmond, Va. police department.

That's because law enforcement in the city of 200,000 relies on a BI implementation that's been so effective that it recently won an award from Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. Over the last few years, the police force has extended its

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analytics implementation into a near real-time BI system, according to Rodney Monroe, Richmond police chief. The department was one of three finalists selected to present its business intelligence case study to attendees at the recent Gartner BI Summit. Attendees voted for the presentation they thought made the best use of BI technology and awarded the Gartner BI Excellence Award to the Richmond police.

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Although the benefits differ from a typical enterprise BI implementation, the technology is familiar. The platform includes WebFocus technology from New York-based Information Builders Inc., predictive analytics from Chicago-based SPSS Inc. and geographic information system mapping from Redlands, Calif.-based ESRI. Data sources include thousands of crime reports from the last five years, results of emergency phone calls, and even information about weather patterns and special events.

The department has worked to develop a near real-time system and will soon have a four-hour data update cycle, Monroe said, enabling it to use the results of its analysis quickly to mitigate developing problems. The BI reports help the department identify crime patterns and deploy officers to potential hot spots. While it's using coporate technology, the BI ROI is measured in lives and safety, not dollars.

Last year, the system helped facilitate the arrests of 16 fugitives and the confiscation of 18 guns, Monroe said. BI has increased public safety, reduced emergency calls, and helped the force make better use of its 750 officers, he said, because there's better data about where certain kinds of crimes may occur.

The metrics are different, but many of the challenges the force overcame during the deployment have a familiar ring.

"It's been very rewarding to see how commanders, supervisors and officers have really embraced the system," Monroe said.

That's because it helps them do their jobs better on a daily basis, he said. Rather than waiting until the end of the month, as they used to do, police at every level in the force now receive daily BI reports. Officers get a report when they start their shifts, showing problem areas and describing certain activities to focus on. Shift supervisors get a similar report, along with real-time notifications if the system starts to detect a crime pattern in a certain area. And commanders, who have 24/7 responsibility for their assigned sectors, get even more detailed reports.

There's only one problem, Monroe said. All this BI technology has shown him what's possible and given him an appetite for more, resulting in almost monthly updates to the system.

Recently, the department added more granularity to its reports. Instead of grouping all violent crimes together, police now look independently at crimes such as robberies, rapes and homicides, Monroe said. This enables them to zero in on patterns relevant to a specific kind of crime. For example, the department discovered that the city's Hispanic workers were often robbed on paydays. By entering the workers' regular paydays into the system and looking at robbery patterns, the police were able to pinpoint the days and locations where these incidents were most likely to occur. Now, the force preemptively moves officers from other parts of the city into potential problem areas, which has lowered the number of robberies.

It's a unique policing strategy, Monroe said, because it enables the department to prevent some crimes before they happen -- rather than always being reactive.

"With the small amount of resources that we have in law enforcement, being able to deploy people to address specific individuals, areas and problems reduces crime," Monroe said. "Simply responding when you get a radio call does nothing to reduce crime."


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