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New York City Probation Department Uses Mapping for All Aspects of Decision Support
Probationers Monitored and Public Safety Improved with GIS
The role of law enforcement in any community is multifaceted. It includes crime prevention, criminal investigations, traffic safety, response to a variety of calls for services, and community collaboration. Probation and parole agencies also play a large part in the law enforcement mission of providing safe communities. Every day, hundreds of thousands of convicted criminals are released back into society to serve a parole or probationary term after early release from their sentence based on an agreement to meet certain legal obligations and restrictions. Thousands of probation departments are tasked with supervising these individuals and ensuring their compliance with the conditions of their release. These agencies do so while struggling to balance finite resources and ever-increasing demands for improved performance.
New York City Department of Probation (NYCDOP) understands this all too well: it is one of the largest probation departments in the country and must monitor tens of thousands of probationers every year.
The agency recently began using GIS to more effectively manage caseloads, track high-risk probationers, and share information with other law enforcement divisions.
"We're able to keep crime down and understand probation issues using GIS," says Alphonzo Albright, chief information officer, New York City Department of Probation. "Probation departments are underfunded yet still liable for preserving public safety. The reengineering of information technology at our department has been a significant factor in smart planning. GIS has played a role here. Geocoding caseloads and providing strategic maps help in this process."
Smart Management and Strategic Planning
With 35 staff, including consultants, NYCDOP's IT group is accountable for the management of office automation tasks. This includes desktop software and support, network implementation, application development, and information management.
The department has numerous information needs. It serves more than 60,000 adult probationers and 25,000 juveniles each year. It provides an annual 40,000 Pre-Sentence Investigations (PSI) for the Supreme and Criminal courts, as well as 7,000 Investigations and Recommendations (I&R) reports for the Family Court.
"Once they're on probation, they're supervised by a probation officer," adds Albright. "I came from Operations as a former probation officer myself. I used to identify with where something happened and see things in a visual context. You miss things in an Excel spreadsheet. There are patterns and relationships you can't see in a paragraph of text on a piece of paper. The only way you can see those things is to visualize them."
As soon as Albright moved into the IT group, he began churning out maps officers could use to make decisions in their daily casework. The feedback was favorable. Soon, more map requests came in from many different areas of the department.
"I presented a map, and it quickly went from there," says Albright. "Both the Commissioner and the First Deputy Commissioner wanted to start working with GIS to show all other law enforcement our data. They wanted to also show what we designed, what we can do, and how powerful it is to present something in a visual method."
GIS Pieces the Puzzle Together
GIS provides a rich, intuitive, map-based interface to identify probation officer caseloads by precinct, ZIP Code, and borough. The system, using ArcGIS Desktop (ArcInfo) software, pulls data from the department's Reusable Case Management System (RCMS) crime database, geocodes it, and provides query and analysis capability. The maps and data generated by Albright and his staff are supplied to probation officers in either paper format or digitally via e-mail.
GIS maps can show probationer locations, as well as the locations of probationer rearrests. A visual representation of neighborhoods where these new crimes are taking place can help plan where to place additional resources to prevent probation violations, make arrests when necessary, and deter crime.
For instance, maps produced using ArcInfo can show areas where a high number of drug-related violations are taking place. Officers can overlay this data with the point locations of where probationers live and the polygons showing probation or law enforcement precincts. They can then start to see where precinct of residence is different than precinct of crime.
This yields useful intelligence to ask further questions and carry out response activities. What precincts have high crime rates? What types of crimes are taking place in these areas? Are the crimes being carried out by local residents or people traveling from outside the precinct? How far are probationers traveling to commit new crimes, and what possible paths are they taking? What resources are needed, and where should they be placed to address crime spikes? Query results can be shared with other New York City law enforcement departments to plan effective, long-term crime response strategies and reduce crime in these areas.
"There's a lot you can do with the data," continues Albright. "There's a difference between an area where a lot of drug possession arrests are made versus drug sales and usage. As you start to get an accurate picture of what's taking place on the ground, you can ask better questions and make better decisions on how to respond."
Probation officers can visualize caseloads geographically to quickly identify high-risk probationers that require special attention. Mapped data can also help with probationary compliance issues. A probation officer can see where a probationer is located in relationship to schools, liquor stores, gun stores, known drug trafficking areas, other probationers, and a host of other criteria.
For someone who has violated terms of probation, data such as last known residence, place of employment, addresses of known family members and associates, and the location of previous convictions can be visualized and overlaid to aid in both investigation and apprehension.
For probation managers, visualized data can help determine how to assign cases to field officers so they have less of a geographic range to cover. This can enable probation officers to minimize driving time and maximize contacts with the people in their caseloads.
Of equal importance, mapping is used for monthly Statistical Tracking Analysis and Reporting System (STARS) meetings, where probation managers come together to go over the previous month's activities and plan future actions. Maps help accurately render data in an intuitive format that can be understood by everyone involved in the meeting.
A Comprehensive Enterprise Approach
The second phase in the use of ArcGIS by NYCDOP will include significant enhancements in the types of analysis that will be performed and the method for accessing the system.
The system will link arrest and probation databases using the probationers' New York State Identification Number (NYSID) and the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS). Officers will be able to perform their own geocoding on a number of key geographic variables in the arrest and probation data, including addresses of probationers and locations of arrest and rearrest. This will enable officers to take their own caseload data, perform complex analyses using simple point-and-click functionality, and take their results out on the street as they work. The system will include a map-based application that can visualize probationer details and arrest data interactively on a three-dimensional map interface. In addition, probation officers will be able to identify the shortest drive-time routes for caseloads based on officer and probationer locations. The enterprise GIS data can be integrated with numerous law enforcement databases and probation data shared with other law enforcement agencies using the Web.
"GIS gives us a better level of understanding and assurance that we're doing all we can to promote public safety," says Albright. "We're able to see where problems might occur and where things are working. Applying GIS technology to accomplish tasks has enabled officers to make better decisions; improve productivity; and, most importantly, assist with public safety."
For more information, contact Alphonzo Albright, chief information officer, New York City Department of Probation (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).