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In St. Louis, Missouri, GIS Helps Residents, Police Via the Web
The headline, "St. Louis Tops Dangerous City List," on a CBSNews.com article dated December 6, 2002, is not what any police chief or mayor would like to see. This item was based on a published total number of 51,449 crimes in 2000.
"This ranking is not an accurate picture of crime in the city," says St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) Chief Joe Mokwa.
Further investigation of the FBI MapsStats statistics revealed the following breakdown: murder 124, rape 112, robbery 3,224, aggravated assault 4,476, burglary 8,020, motor vehicle thefts 7,835, larceny-related crimes 26,882, other 776.
This media-propogated misunderstanding made clear that the city needed a better way to track the nature of reported crimes around St. Louis and their exact geographic locations. In addition, such information was critical to help allocate police resources effectively and provide accurate information to citizens residing in the region.
The SLMPD had a goal to create and implement an application that would provide timely spatial information regarding crimes reported in the city. It wanted to provide current information to district commanders and officers on the beat to focus their attention on particular addresses or on issues occurring within their precincts. In addition, the department wanted a way to educate the residents on the true nature and locations of reported crimes. Such an application had to be comprehensive, precise, interactive, Web enabled, and user friendly.
In late 2001, the SLMPD established a consultative relationship with Esri Business Partner Kinetic Solutions LLC, a local GIS application development and data integration company. The company was recommended to the SLMPD by St. Louis University's GIS laboratory. This teaming resulted in the comprehensive crime tracking application called Safe City. Following a six-month review by precinct commanders, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay launched Safe City in the community on October 23, 2002.
The city of St. Louis and Kinetic Solutions created Safe City using GIS software and Internet technology from Esri. Although all components are essential, the GIS aspect is fundamental to the project because it allows for spatial representation of crime data. It also allows the use of analytical tools to detect trends and patterns of both criminal incidents and police responses.
This crime mapping Web site was built using an Oracle database and Esri's ArcSDE and ArcIMS software. SLMPD provided base data, which was then imported into Oracle through ArcSDE to store the geographic locations of police calls for service. An ArcIMS server was used to access both the spatial and tabular information. The customized Web interface allowed users to conduct queries based on street addresses or areas. The advanced search capabilities allowed visitors to search the site based on category, crime type, time of day or month, or neighborhood.
Picture How It Works
One way to understand the power of Safe City is to picture what happens when a resident goes to the Web site. When a resident asks, "Is it safe to park my car in this block when I go to the theater?" he or she can find the answer on Safe City. After going through the preliminary pages of the site, the resident can query the exact location of the theater. Another option is for the resident to simply hold down the mouse or "rubber-band" over the location of the theater to view incidents of crime in the area. The crime map on Safe City generates a map of the queried location showing recent crimes of theft, murder, and violence. This information enables the resident to make an informed decision about where to park the car.
In addition to educating citizens, Safe City brings meaning to the efforts of police officers by making SLMPD directly accountable to its citizens. One example is when citizens attend community police meetings with their Safe City maps in hand and pose challenging questions. This has enabled citizens to ask the right questions and forced police officers to provide solutions based on factual data. In addition, while officers once patrolled their beats in a random fashion based on anecdotal evidence, they now can focus their patrol efforts, which has a potential dispersal effect on criminal activity.
Another real-world example of how Safe City adds value to SLMPD was noticed on New Year's Eve 2002 when officers were required to respond to a high volume of incidents and calls for assistance. SLMPD was more proactive and vigilant in areas requiring special attention, based on results generated from Safe City. For example, the number of murders in the city's downtown decreased New Year's Eve 2002 from past years, based on a pattern of murders in the area in the previous three months.
"On a map it's easier to focus on an area to see exactly where the activity is occurring," says Mayor Slay.