Law requires police & service agencies to share data: UK FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Fri, 2 Apr 1999 09:29:55 -0800 (PST)


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"Essex County Council is piloting a project that combines social
research factors such as homelessness figures and unemployment, with
crimes, to identify trends. The goal is to identify areas to
concentrate police and other resources on." -- from article below

http://quoteserver.dogpile.com/texis/stock/dogpile/+4wwBmEeMhUD7wwwqFqMrdMncn55D
n55/article.html
FWD  CMP Media Inc.

AGENCIES EXCHANGE DATA TO CUT CRIME

Mar 18, 1999 (Tech Web - CMP via COMTEX) -- Police forces, local
government, and health authorities are scrambling to make major systems
changes to comply with a law requiring them to share information in a
drive to reduce crime.

The Crime and Disorder Act says public-sector agencies within a
district must collaborate to come up with strategies by April 1 for
reducing crime in their areas, and monitor the effectiveness of these
strategies at regular intervals.

The requirements are driving extensive and sophisticated developments
within many agencies. Many police forces are implementing geographical
information systems (GIS) designed to spot and monitor trends, by
combining crime data with other information, such as the electoral
roll, medical statistics, and unemployment figures.

Dozens of agencies are grappling with the problems of creating secure
networks for sharing information. "We have a duty to consult with
people like the probation services to identify localities where crime
is occurring. What we don't have is a system for doing that," said
Peter Pearson, head of community safety and emergency planning at Essex
County Council.

Districts must come up with objectives for cutting those crimes they
have identified as major problems in their areas. In three years, the
government's audit commission will check that targets have been met.

To set and monitor the objectives, the agencies within the district
must share helpful information. The fact that three drug dealers are
arrested on the same day as three people who have overdosed are
admitted into the local hospital and social services has visited five
families with children on the at-risk register, could prove to be a
vital trend if analysed using technology such as GIS and transmitted
between agencies securely.

Essex County Council is piloting a project that combines social
research factors such as homelessness figures and unemployment, with
crimes, to identify trends. The goal is to identify areas to
concentrate police and other resources on.

"It's just like customer profiling in a supermarket -- we want to stem
the flow of crime and get the best return from an investment," Pearson
said.

The system, which will be tested in the next few weeks, is implemented
by integrator Omai and consultancy Kirkham Jones. It runs on a Sybase
relational database and uses a Web application server from SilverStream
running on Windows NT so eventually, it can run on the council
intranet.

Many police forces are using GIS, despite the fact that consultants say
GIS systems are not good for analyzing trends over time. These systems
present a variety of information in a map format, to pinpoint crime
hotspots. GIS' ability to add a spatial element to queries and
reporting is an important part of decision-support technology,
according to Mary Hope, an analyst at research firm Ovum. The problem
is though it has been around for years, its use was impractical.

"GIS was hard on the hardware, and you had to key in demographic
information. It was horrendous," she said.

But things have improved considerably, she said. "You can buy more and
more demographic information off the shelf. GIS is hovering on the
brink of being a killer application. Customer relationship management
may bring it into the mainstream."

Sgt. Warneford-Thomson, crime and disorder implementation coordinator
for Avon & Somerset Constabulary, said there are still immense benefits
from the system. "Until now, geographical analysis has been nothing
more than sticky dots on a map," he said. "When you can overlay
information, such as maps, registered drug addicts, and incidents in
antisocial behavior, suddenly, you're able to draw from data you've had
before, but never had an opportunity to analyze in-depth.

"We've got so many problems with data. People can't find data, it's
either old, or it is entered incorrectly. It's a real nightmare." --
Phil Spivey Sussex Police Avon & Somerset is embarking on a project
that will feed data from its crime-pattern analysis system into the GIS
system. But even this is a complicated process -- all data must be
cleaned and checked for integrity.

This is the key issue for Sussex Police, which is cleaning data from
old databases to feed into its GIS system, called Pafec, supplied by
the Police Information Technology Organisation. "We've got so many
problems with data. People can't find data, it's either old, or it is
entered incorrectly. It's a real nightmare," said Phil Spivey,
data-exchange and audit analyst at Sussex Police.

Many of the police forces and councils aim to share information, but
few have yet decided exactly how that will be done. "We are having big
meetings to bring forward protocols for data exchange, what we have to
share, and data-protection issues. We have to be careful that [the
data] doesn't reach the public realm -- or our heads could be on the
block," Spivey said.

As a starting point, many forces are using a template produced by the
Association of Chief Police Officers, which has drawn up protocols for
secure data exchange. While the Act has caused activity over the past
year, some police forces such as Cleveland are ahead of the game.

"We started looking at this three-and-a-half years ago before it was
flavor of the month," said Detective Inspector Victor Shadforth, head
of the Force Intelligence Bureau at Cleveland Constabulary.

Among many other projects, they have implemented a crime and incident
pattern analysis system that can perform sophisticated analyses on
information fed from the force's crime computer, command and control
system, and crime-incident systems. The April 1 deadline signals the
beginning of a very long process for many districts in the United
Kingdom.

"We're on the first step of the ladder," said Pearson, "and it's a long
one."

END FORWARD

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