Edmonton Police fight crime with IBM business intelligence

Edmonton Police Services, responsible for over one million residents in Alberta, is one of the first police forces in Canada to use business analytics software from IBM Corp. for law enforcement.

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The project began as an effort to “dig down” into police data to provide accountability to the public and public dollars, said John Warden, BI project team lead for Edmonton Police Services. “We spent the first three years of our project getting our data really stable and accurate so we could truly understand the public demand for policing services,” he said.

This involved looking at calls to service from the public and how the police were responding to those calls in order to measure the organization’s efficiency and effectiveness. “We want to measure what the public demand is to us so we have a clear understanding of whether we have enough resources and are supplying those resources in a timely and effective way,” he said.

Now in its fourth year of development, the project has amassed enough data to identify crime trends and locations. “We are very sure of our data, whether it be in calls for service or crime data and we are able to track crime now on a daily basis,” said Warden.

This allows the police to know where to put their resources, as the system provides statistics at the neighborhood level, Warden noted. If theft from vehicles, for example, is rising significantly in a particular neighborhood compared to the same time frame last year, they can deploy more resources in that area, he said.

By spotting seasonal trends and other patterns in crime, the system also allows the police to put “the right sources at the right time” over the city, he said. “We can expect robberies, like most crime, begin to increase in the spring and peak out in the summer and begin to tail off in October and November,” he said.IT

Business performance briefings are provided to the Edmonton Police Chief on a daily basis and this information is fed to commanders in the field, Warden noted. Stats from the BI data warehouse are also fed into a public neighborhood crime mapping system, which launched this summer and allows visitors to map crime in eight categories.

“There is a transparency and a consistency in how crime is being presented in the city … we are not hiding anything and certainly wouldn’t want to hide anything. We want to be as transparent as possible as an organization (about) how we use and present data to support decision-making,” he said.

Warden expects another two years are needed to get the past the project stage, but the system has already proven results.

When the city noticed an increase in arson in a particular area of the city, commanders were able to ask not only why it was happening but whether it was happening more than in previous years and expected to increase, said Warden. “We were able to … create a project around in the city, and the commanders who are doing this in fact were able to mitigate this by making some significant arrests and stop that actual pattern in its tracks,” he said.

The system also found a significant number of face-to-face robberies taking place on the city streets. “When people talk about robberies, they think of bank robbery or people going into a convenience store and committing a robbery, so it was surprising to discover the 80 per cent of the robberies in Edmonton currently are personal robberies,” said Warden.

Edmonton Police are now able look at where crime is happening based on the same time frame for last year and how crime is changing, said Warden. The next step, based on years of collected data, is being able to forecast or predict where crimes are going to take place, he said.

The end goal is the ability to place resources in advance, to put police into certain areas of the city because they predict crime will take place in that area and be able to mitigate that crime with the police presence, said Warden.

“Are we there yet? Absolutely not, but we are on the way to these final pieces of who, how and why, and (those are) going to be the exciting pieces for us as we move into 2010 – to cover off those final pieces of the picture so we have a total and complete picture of what’s going on when it comes to preventing crime and victimization in Edmonton,” he said.

Edmonton Police is currently sharing the data with Alberta Justice and Edmonton Transit. “As we move forward, we expect to be able to share better,” said Warden.

IBM’s work with the Edmonton Police is part the Smarter Cities initiative. “The program was created to bolster economic vitality and the quality of life in cities and metropolitan areas by sparking new thinking and meaningful action across the city ecosystem,” states IBM.

This includes bringing certain attributes of technology – like instrumentation of the Web, the use of sensors and connections to databases – to the forefront to help people perform their roles in government, said Mark Cleverley, director of strategy for IBM’s global government industry.

“Analytics as a discipline inside policing is being recognized across the world as a key tool for law enforcement staff and the reason for that is increasingly it is becoming an information business where there are many sources of information that can have relevance to decision-making,” said Cleverley.

“If you can look at a series of data and discover, as Edmonton did, that certain kinds of events tend to happen at certain times of the year and perhaps in certain areas over and above others, then you can make some smart decisions about proactively putting resources out there to prevent things from happening instead of just responding to them,” he said.

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