Fighting Crime with Technology: A Detroit Success Story

12/16/11Follow @XconomyDET

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mapping Detroit’s streets. He also printed out hard copies of “data dumps” and then took the stacks of paper and ran them through scanners that converted the scanned images into text files. Then, the data was imported into mapping software.

“There was no easy way to get information out of the mainframe system, but the sergeant really wanted to create those maps,” Martin said with a laugh.

In the late 1990s, the Center for Urban Studies teamed up with Wayne County to poll nearly 2,000 residents on the safety of their neighborhoods and the performance of the police department. They presented their work to Detroit police, who then asked them to help map the growing problem of carjackings.

“We bought them a computer and placed it in the department,” Martin said. “All we needed was the data. It turns out there was no easy way to get it. Cops would write the reports, and then someone else would type them into the computer, which was a Unisys mainframe—very old technology. The bottom line is that nobody was reading the reports. There was no mapping going on.”

Martin says that as DPD dedicated more resources to getting the carjacking problem under control, opportunities were opened for his department to work with the police in both the DPD and WSUPD. Students were placed in the departments to help the officers learn how to work with the data and incorporate it into community policing.

Ten years ago, the Center for Urban studies finally began implementing automated crime-mapping tools and five years ago, they started using the state-of-the-art system that WSUPD uses today.

“The Wayne State department doesn’t have a central database, but a patchwork of systems,” Martin says. “With this initiative, we’ve been able to demonstrate how police departments can use open-source software to produce crime analyses.”

Martin said he uses the Middleware software program to query different databases on crimes, calls, and arrests, and from there he creates the maps. “More than 500 … Next Page »

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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