Fighting Crime with Technology: A Detroit Success Story

12/16/11Follow @XconomyDET

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crime reports a day with everything from slip-and-falls to murders are constantly being input into the system,” he added.

The result is a real-time crime feed not unlike Twitter. As soon an officer hits enter on his in-vehicle computer, it shows up on Martin’s crime feed. From there, anybody with access privileges can pull up the feed and get a quick rundown of crimes being reported in real time. Martin said he’s taken the process further than most police departments by reading and including the narrative information from the reports.

“That’s where the real data is,” he said.

Martin said he’s built a lot of little tools into the mapping system in the name of place-specific crime reduction and encouraging the involvement of Midtown residents, business owners, and institutional players. He’s further broken the map down into 10 neighborhoods so he can share data with community groups. He’s also created an arrest feed similar to the crime feed to help track the “huge” population of fugitives that resides in the area.

“For every person arrested in Midtown, we have a student who looks them up in OTIS and searches for prior arrests,” Martin said. If the department gets a hit, they record the suspect’s OTIS number and add them to a watch list. “Right now, we’re tracking 557 offenders, 20 percent of whom are accounting for 45 percent of all arrests. Managing crime has a lot to do with managing the offender population. Our police officers are working closely with corrections, which is unusual.”

Martin said he’s created a similar mapping system for DPD to use downtown, after a group of business owners and their security forces came to him and asked him to replicate what he’s doing for WSUPD. So far, though the data is there, the manpower for enforcement isn’t, meaning the reductions in crime Wayne State has been able to achieve has not been duplicated downtown.

Martin said one of his pet peeves about law enforcement and politicians is how quick they are to hold a press conference when crime is down, but hesitate to do the same when crime is up.

“We really need to look at longer-term trends to see if we’re moving the needle,” Martin said. “The system I’ve created is an evaluation tool. It’s used for CompStat meetings and tactical deployment of police resources. Chief Holt has really bought into it—I don’t think he’s missed a meeting since 2009.”

The reality, Martin said, is that today’s police officer in a city like Detroit needs to be more like a solider, which means using every bit of technology possible to gain an advantage.

“The police in Detroit are outmanned and outgunned,” Martin said. “That’s the thing Detroit has really grappled with. The public demands hard police enforcement—the lock ‘em up approach as opposed to community policing. But we’re trying to strategically pick those who are causing the disproportionate amount of problems.”

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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