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Connecting the dots for police intelligence: How to better understand and improve how policing strategies are playing out in communities

January 24, 2024  By Jin Y Xie


Photo credit: artas / Getty

The Windsor Police Service (WPS) is committed to making the neighbourhoods safe and keeps pursuing continuous improvement and innovation to best serve the communities. Like many other law enforcement agencies in the world, the WPS faces the 21st-century challenge of data explosion, as more and more digital information is generated every day in CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch), RMS (Record Management System), GPS (Global Positioning System), GIS (Geographical Information System), CCTV (Closed Circuit Television), Smartphones, and any other IoTs (Internet of Things). What are we going to do with all this massive data effectively and efficiently? How can we find the complex relationship in the raw data to transform it into meaningful pictures for decision-makers? It is time to connect the dots rather than just collecting them. This has become one of the top items on the agenda of Matt Caplin, the Technology Service Director for the agency.

Case one: Beyond the GPS tracking

In 2013, GPS tracking on police vehicles was implemented in the WPS. Later, smartphones were deployed to operational officers in 2014 to further facilitate the tracking of police personnel in carrying out daily duties, even if they were not in vehicles.

The overall operating efficiency and effectiveness of the WPS have been improved through GPS tracking. The captured real-time location data is integrated into the CAD system and can be plotted on top of the CAD map as a series of dots on the fly for reference as needed. It has been vital information to frontline officers for situational awareness and officer safety. It also helps dispatchers and commanders monitor and assess circumstances during emergencies to make tactical decisions interactively.

Now, WPS Chief Jason Bellaire needs and expects even more analytic power to drive divisional strategies. How can you go beyond just location tracking? By connecting the dots, which creates knowledge. An analytics and visualization tool was developed in 2022 in the WPS Technology Services Branch to provide a steady stream of data on critical information from GPS tracking. It transforms the vast GPS raw data into intelligence to support strategic decision-making.

First, by leveraging technologies of spatial process, the location dots retrieved from the raw GPS data could be selected by a predefined geo-fence on the map. However, no clear patterns or trends could be read through the packed dots at this stage.

The dots selected could then be connected with the operational datasets to learn insights through sophisticated algorithms, which include smart calculations and intelligent queries supporting regular selections as well as complicated joins that combine data between tables and systems. The key information includes Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) unit or not, officer name and badge number, platoon name, occurrence number, reactive policing or proactive activities, from location and to location, in geo-fence time and out geo-fence time, and time spent. This information could be represented as a robust dashboard to help senior leaders make strategic decisions.

By connecting the dots, plenty of crucial information retrieved helps senior leaders better understand and improve how policing strategies are playing out in communities.

The WPS is dedicated to POP and believes that connecting people with the services they need is an effective way to resolve the underlying issues of sustained crime problems in neighbourhoods. Thus, senior leaders always encourage officers to interact with the public. By using this newly developed analytics tool, senior leaders can review the patterns of police activities within a specific neighbourhood defined by a geo-fence for certain time frames, to flag how much time is spent by officers reactively and proactively during their shifts. This provides a good representation of how officers interact with the public in that neighbourhood, and it helps senior leaders to determine how and where resources should be best applied to help people get assistance in dealing with specific problems.

Case two: Connecting dots in the temporal dimensional world

In the WPS, officers are the most valuable assets. In addition to the police daily activities, it is recognized that tracking statistics like the usage of vacation time, special leave time, sick time and the submission for “no relief” time, is the key to ensuring long-term and sustainable levels of policing.

So far, vacation time and special leave are well managed and controlled through staff management standards and daily orders. Though sick time is out of people’s control, it has never been an issue in the WPS even during the pandemic, thanks to senior leaders’ commitments to the members’ wellness and public health measures.

Only the “no relief” comes to be an increasingly important metric, as it can be very impactful to street strength. This is because patrol officers sometimes miss relief time caused by unexpected incidents. Due to budget constraints, officers who must work long hours with no relief are compensated with time off upon approval by unit commanders, other than paying them off. However, this may cause strength shortages on the street later. Tracking and managing “no relief” is one of Chief Bellaire’s organizational priorities.

The submissions for “no relief” in the system could be considered as ‘dots’ in the temporal dimensional world. Connecting such digital dots using the algorithms is a must to build the intelligence tool for analyzing the trends and patterns related to “no relief”. This analytics tool makes it a reality for commanders to quickly and easily review the total volume of “no relief” submissions and individual accumulation on a bi-weekly basis, and then identify the highest volume and list all evidently high-volume ones. Such information can be broken down by platoons and individuals for performance evaluation. If something was out of the ordinary, unit commanders could intervene to reduce those statistics, to help avoid potential strength shortages.

Due to the busiest Canada-U.S.A. international border crossing being located in Windsor, the WPS faces unique challenges, unlike any others in Canada, no matter whether it’s the movement of goods and people, firearms and drugs, or even the extreme incidents like the Truck Convoy Blockage in the Ambassador Bridge in early 2022. This tool has proven to help senior leaders efficiently optimize patrols and ensure officer accountability.

Conclusion

By connecting the dots, plenty of crucial information retrieved helps senior leaders better understand and improve how policing strategies are playing out in communities. Automated intelligent analytics tools assist commanders and officers in strategic decision-making and deployment efforts on the front line. All the tools mentioned in this article were developed in-house at Windsor Police Service, without aid from outsourced contractors. They were recognized as timely deliveries by senior leaders.


Jin Y. Xie has over 19 years of experience, including working for Windsor Police Service, Hamilton Police Service, Burlington Fire and Rescue, Ontario municipalities and Saskatchewan Wildfire Management. Xie is currently a system analyst with the Windsor Police Service.


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