Getting the right information to the right people at the right time is foremost in the minds of managers in any business. Organizations that are the most successful at collecting, evaluating and applying information are consistently the leaders in their respective industries. This same logic applies to police work, where the ability to act quickly and decisively can enable officers to solve crimes, apprehend criminals and protect citizens.


Finding, formatting and delivering insightful information is the key. This was our overriding premise at the Erlanger Kentucky Police Department, where we have created an operational business intelligence (BI) system with integrated search capabilities and links to local law enforcement applications. The new information system combines current crime data from 19 government agencies to link formerly unrelated information about suspects, incidents, arrests and crimes. It provides our police force with a real-time view of incidents, arrests, 911 calls and other events throughout the dispatch area.


At the heart of this new information system is a software platform from Information Builders called WebFOCUS Magnify. Magnify combines BI and search technology to enable officers to locate and share data, which was formerly kept in paper files and not shared beyond city boundaries. The software generates real-time search results to police officers in the field, in conjunction with key performance indicators (KPIs) for supervisors at headquarters.


Officers connect to the system through cellular-powered displays in their vehicles. Entering a brief search string returns header information followed by a narrative about specific incidents in the order those incidents occurred. Drilling down, officers can obtain reports that list all the pertinent information about each incident. For example, if an officer stops a speeding car and performs a quick search of the license plate number, the software could display a police report from earlier in the day in a neighboring city involving a hit-and-run incident, even if the witness at the scene got only part of the license plate number. In this way, a suspect in two crimes could be apprehended through a small piece of shared data.


Forging Connections among Agencies


The primary motivator for this project was a desire to share information among multiple agencies. Historically, the Erlanger Police Department used mapping and statistical data systems developed in-house to provide information to patrol officers and supervisors. Neighboring cities were using other systems, and lots of police records were stored in filing cabinets.


Thus, while criminals crossed back and forth over city boundaries, the information about their crimes stayed within the individual cities, often out of reach when it was needed most. The department needed a tool that could dig into historical databases and integrate real-time information about crimes, arrests and incidents. That’s what Erlanger’s BI and search technology tools do for the department.


The Erlanger Police Department first learned about Information Builders’ WebFOCUS BI environment through the Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission. The department went on to implement an information system that merges data from 10 neighboring cities and 19 government agencies. The system enables officers to search crime records and incident reports stretching back over five years. By leveraging this up-to-date repository of information, officers can respond to calls with more knowledge in hand, and supervisors can deploy the force in a way that best serves the community.


The police department was also motivated by a recent upswing in crime following several years of declines that is stretching police resources to the limit. If the department can work smarter and do more work with fewer people, they can avoid raising taxes or hiring additional personnel. This realization drove us to build the new information system.


The Convergence of Search and BI


Search tools, for the most part, index and query unstructured data, taking a broad approach to finding data and delivering multiple possible results rather than exact answers. But the marriage of search technology and BI tools brings together two technologies dedicated to the discovery and analysis of data, each tending to look at different types of information with radically different approaches to finding that information.


Search tools crawl, index and easily retrieve just about any kind of information, but they fall short when it’s time to decide what to do with it. Most search technologies don't offer analysis capabilities, such as statistical methods or trend analysis, for organizing and gleaning insight from information. The strengths of BI lie in finding the right structured information, then organizing and manipulating it in a way that aids information analysis and decision-making. The combination of these distinctly different technologies creates a solution that provides more than either technology could by itself, bringing insight to a wider community of users who aren’t familiar with structured query languages and complicated BI interfaces.


The Magnify search tool is as easy to use as any Web search engine, but much more powerful. It lets us search dynamic BI content in addition to structured and unstructured data sources, which are then compiled into the universally known and easy-to-use Google search paradigm. Users easily locate key facts through simple keyword searches, realizing significant productivity gains. When users search a keyword, indexed content is scanned to create the Google-style results drawn from all data sources. From the search, page users can follow links to execute reports and access information in the format of their choice, including Microsoft Excel, Adobe PDF, HTML or XML.


Casting a Wide Net for Information


During a recent string of Erlanger-area burglaries involving iron and steel from around the county, everything from wrought-iron gates to sewer covers disappeared? Because these crimes were so widespread, individual police departments didn’t know there was a pattern until some of the stolen goods turned up at a recycling center, which informed all the jurisdictions. Today, if that same situation were to occur, as soon as an officer entered a keyword such as “metal” or “iron” into the Magnify search index, all the related incidents would be linked in a one-page report.


Law enforcement personnel in Northern Kentucky cities can now share up-to-date information. It’s not just data sharing, but timely data sharing that is important. Getting current information out of the system is practically instantaneous, which is what makes this tool so effective on the street. Old data is not useful to officers in patrol cars.


The new application is also unique in the way it presents information for two different audiences. The search engine helps officers run simple queries from their patrol cars, delivering ranked listings of relevant information, and a BI portal displays KPIs of current crime activity, types of incidents and trends to investigators at headquarters.


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. Integration technology updates the search index every 15 minutes with crime records from Erlanger’s computer aided dispatch system and records management system. The software taps into these records and rapidly scans indexed content, transforming it into usable information and preparing it for search by end users. Data is stored in a SQL Server database at the Erlanger Area Planning Commission.


KPIs Via an Integrated Crime Portal


Dispatchers and supervisors can view a different slice of this crime data through the department’s new crime portal, which is anchored by a geographic information system. Created with WebFOCUS and ESRI’s Arc/IMS, the portal displays a real-time view of events occurring throughout the dispatch area. It includes dashboards for displaying and drilling down into KPIs, including crime activity by city, current crime alerts and a summary of arrests and incidents sorted by categories, such as arson, assault, burglary and criminal mischief.


The KPIs and maps work together to provide a unified view of the crime data. Each interactive dashboard includes fields for drilling down into the data via parameters specified by the users, so they can enrich the map with facts about criminal activities and incidents as they occur.


Supervisors at headquarters use this crime portal to detect patterns of criminal activity. This helps us efficiently deploy the police force based on our insight into current and expected incidents. The department is experiencing improved law enforcement and crime prevention in Erlanger with the new system. Without this new tool the department would not be aware, for example, if a string of burglaries occurred in a block across their city boundary in a neighboring city. But now if reports show such activity, the department can send a unit to patrol the border area where the burglaries occurred, potentially preventing a crime.


Future developments will provide Erlanger citizens with access to some of this information via a public-facing Web site, so they can check on crime occurring in their neighborhoods. This should encourage citizen input as well. Once citizens are more in touch with crimes in their neighborhoods, they will be more likely to report clues and suspicious behavior.


Lessons Learned


As local police departments strive to offer expanded services in the face of tight or dwindling budgets, law enforcement personnel have to work smarter to offer the same level of protection to their citizens.


Erlanger’s work with crime data is a model for many other law enforcement agencies. Our officers have a valuable tool to help them make arrests and apprehend suspected criminals, while our supervisors can make informed decisions about how and where to deploy the force. We don’t have to adjust our procedures to the way the technology works, because it complements our existing data resources. The new system boosts productivity and ensures more effective protection for Erlanger citizens.


Thanks to the unique combination of search, integration and BI software, even small agencies can acquire cutting-edge technology that was formerly only available to larger police departments. Our department now has an intelligent crime-fighting tool that is helping us boost productivity and ultimately save lives.

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