7/12/99: Mapping Out Crime: Support Community Policing with 21st Century Tools


Mapping Out Crime Table of Contents



Many of the most successful law enforcement agencies in the country are using crime mapping, good analysis, and data-driven management to support community policing, solve problems, and prevent and reduce crime.

Mapping is a particularly important tool. Leading police departments are mapping everything from quality-of-life complaints to car thefts, serial crimes, homicide patterns, place-based incidents such as robberies at ATMs or liquor stores, and the "path to crime" showing distances between where a victim is abducted and later found. Front-line officers may use maps created by crime analysts to deploy resources strategically when they see the pattern or to work with community groups to discuss the best approach for solving neighborhood complaints.

But without good management, crime mapping, and even its analysis, is—as was emphasized by the Expert Roundtable and in the various interviews and discussions hosted by the Task Force—like a hammer without a carpenter. Leadership is what "data-driven management" is all about. This report repeatedly links crime mapping and data-driven management because leadership sets the tone; leadership provides the vision; leadership engenders cooperation; leadership focuses on results; leadership empowers front-line officers with the skills and tools to solve community problems, prevent and reduce crime, and build new partnerships. In their discussion, participants at the Expert Roundtable emphasized the critical role of law enforcement leadership in the shift to accountability for crime reduction and improved relationships with neighborhoods and communities.


Not all law enforcement agencies are benefiting from the rapid changes in information technology in terms of access to and use of crime mapping, geographic information systems, and other modern problem-solving tools. In a 1997 survey by the National Institute of Justice, 36 percent of police departments with more than 100 sworn officers reported using computerized mapping. Among smaller departments, only 13 percent reported using this tool. Nonetheless, the use of this technology is spreading rapidly: 20 percent of the law enforcement agencies not yet using computerized geographic information systems had plans to purchase mapping software within the next year.

Many departments—especially small and medium-sized ones—simply do not have the resources or expertise to use or develop geographic information systems or to take full advantage of crime mapping and other tools for analysis, planning, and problem-solving. They cite a number of obstacles, including the costs of the technology, the costs of developing and maintaining the data, and lack of training in its effective use. Several jurisdictions suggest more regional cooperation to share data and meet the information technology needs of smaller departments at a reasonable cost.

Data-driven management is being promoted through the efforts of individual departments and consultants, and through peer learning and professional meetings. For example, one major department has established a leadership and management training course for all of its executives with the city's business school. Regular meetings of the "Major City Chiefs," a group of the police chiefs of the nation's 50 largest cities, have had, in the words of one participant, "a significant impact on the spread of best practices among the heads of large police departments." However, few formal courses and programs are in place; and many officers, especially those in smaller departments, have little access to this kind of support.



Not long ago, the Seattle Police Department mapped a puzzling series of robberies using software developed by the Department of Justice. The pattern that emerged was so clear that the police department was able to predict the next crime site and arrest the robber at the scene. The federal government is playing an important role in stimulating the development of easy-to-use specialized mapping applications that respond to key needs identified by law enforcement agencies and communities. For example, the National Institute of Justice's Crime Mapping Research Center—through a cooperative agreement—is developing new policing software for use on laptops by line officers. The software will let them generate and personalize their own maps by adding such information as the names and locations of businesses, community leaders, and resources on their beats. Technical staff in the Department's Criminal Division are also developing software to encourage regional integration of data; this product is now being tested by law enforcement agencies in the Baltimore-Washington region. In addition, the Department of Housing and Urban Development worked with the Caliper Corporation to develop Community 2020, software that allows communities to map a wide range of information pertaining to housing and community.

As interest grows in using mapping in the public sector, the private sector will respond with more commercial off-the-shelf software. For example, the National Association of Counties and Intergraph have developed a geographic information systems starter kit that is provided at no cost to member counties. To encourage private sector development of applications, the National Academy of Public Administration has recommended that federal agencies develop cooperative research and development agreements and other collaborative mechanisms whereby both parties contribute to the development of useful products.

New Crime Mapping Software for Communities
Electronic Community Policing Beat Book: Under a cooperative agreement with the National Institute of Justice, the Environmental Systems Research Institute will create a "Beat Book" designed to support crime analysis by front-line officers and community-oriented policing available free of charge to all interested law enforcement agencies.
Contact: Lnelson@esri.com

Crime Analysis Extension: The National Institute of Justice has also funded development of a crime analysis extension to Arcview geographic information system software. The extension will let crime analysts conduct common analysis queries and generate maps with a standard look and format. It will be available at no charge to interested law enforcement agencies and will include a data loader, which will allow law enforcement agencies to use the interface with their current database structure. Contact: Lnelson@esri.com

Regional Crime Analysis Geographic Information System (RCAGIS):
This powerful, yet easy-to-use geographic information system contains mapping, analysis, and reporting tools for police officers, crime analysts, and police managers. RCAGIS is designed to promote information sharing across police jurisdictions. One of the system's most important features is that each police department will have the ability to query, view, and analyze crimes outside of its own jurisdiction. The programming code will be available at no cost to any interested law enforcement agency or region. RCAGIS contains three modules:

  • QuickMap is designed for police officers, detectives, and managers. It guides the user through a series of "wizard" style form menus to quickly generate informative maps and reports.

  • Analysis incorporates CrimeStat, developed by Dr. Ned Levine. Analysis provides tools for cluster analysis, pattern analysis, linkage analysis, forecasting, and detecting offender movement patterns.

  • Automated Reports provides daily/weekly/monthly reports; incident report summaries; auto theft and recovery reports; and office/manager "accountability" reports that show 28 day comparisons, time of day summaries, and day of week summaries.
    Contact: John.devoe@usdoj.gov

Juvenile Violence: Within the next year, the Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention will make an affordable, easy-to-use software package widely available to community-based initiatives so that they can map factors related to reducing juvenile crime and improving community safety.
Contact: Jeff@ojp.usdoj.gov


  • Make crime mapping tools supported and developed by the Department of Justice and other federal agencies widely available to law enforcement agencies and communities.

  • Continue to work with a wide range of private sector vendors and make use of cooperative research and development agreements to stimulate the development of off-the-shelf crime mapping applications that meet the needs of the criminal justice community.

Despite the growing use of crime mapping tools and a focus on results in local law enforcement, training and learning opportunities are limited and often expensive. As individual police departments successfully use these tools and then search for ways to provide additional training, budgets are strained. Private software vendors such as Intergraph and MapInfo offer Internet-and classroom-based training on the use of geographic information systems for local government and law enforcement agencies. Hands-on, classroom-based, federally funded training exists at the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center in Denver and six cities in North and South Carolina, but space is limited. Illinois, North Carolina, and South Carolina are among the few states that offer training to support statewide, integrated geo-based mapping systems, but these are the exception and not the rule. There are also no nationally recognized programs that specifically teach data-driven management in law enforcement settings. Data-driven approaches to law enforcement are thus spreading from jurisdiction to jurisdiction in a largely ad hoc manner.

As we approach the 21st century, new technologies are changing the face of training and education. These new technologies include live satellite presentations, interactive video conferences and satellite downlinks, Web-based courses, Internet-based "chat rooms," cybercasts (desktop access to satellite or taped presentations), videotape and audiotape courses, and archives of taped presentations accessible through a central Web site or as a video library. The Federal Technology Training Initiative challenges all federal agencies to create learning environments for anyone, anywhere, anytime using such technology-based training. The benefits of electronic delivery of training include leveraging existing resources to serve more students; increasing access to the best instructors; reducing travel and printing costs; accessing front-line experts who have mastered specific mapping applications; providing self-paced coursework to accommodate differences in skill levels, learning styles, and learning paces; and continuous improvement of the educational curriculum through updates and links to new information or case studies.

To improve the capacity of criminal justice agencies to build and use crime mapping systems, to promote data-driven management in the field, to dramatically increase opportunities for regionally available and easily accessible training and learning, and to meet the Department of Justice's commitment to provide such training to any law enforcement agency in the country that wants it, the following actions should be taken.


  • Expand crime mapping and data-driven management training for managers, analysts, and trainers at federally supported training sites, including the 5 National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Centers and the 31 Regional Community Policing Institutes.

  • Appropriate funds for the 21st Century Policing Initiative, which includes the COPS Community-Oriented Networking and Enhanced Communications Technology program that offers hands-on training for crime analysts (see recommendation II.4, below).

  • Partner with vendors that offer mapping and geographic information systems training via the World Wide Web to expand opportunities and reduce costs.

  • Expand the use of electronic and on-line means to provide information and training on crime mapping and data-driven management.

  • Working with the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, develop a data-driven management training module to be used by federal agencies offering management training and to be offered to state and local officials through professional associations and other police executive leadership programs.

  • Working in cooperation with professional associations and other police executive leadership programs, encourage schools of business and management to develop training materials and courses tailored to the emerging needs of law enforcement leadership.


Communities and law enforcement agencies across the country are doing cutting-edge work that is having a real impact on crime. Information technology offers an opportunity to greatly increase the spread of successful innovation and to support peer-to-peer communication about successful strategies and tactics. A network of law enforcement officials and communities working on similar problems, supported by a Web site that gives information and support as needed and "just-in-time," should be created. This network, and its Web site, would facilitate:

  1. access to practical problem-solving assistance from other law enforcement officials;

  2. links to best practices, guidelines, model statutes from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Police Executive Research Forum, the Major City Chiefs, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, other police organizations, academic institutions, the National Ten Point Coalition, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Treasury, and others;

  3. technical support from peers and mentors on problem definition, planning, and implementation and support for cross-jurisdictional collaborative projects focused on common results; and

  4. access to research results—for example, from the National Institute of Justice and academic institutions.

The Web site will begin with a focus on gun violence and be designed to support partnerships between law enforcement agencies and community groups that are committed to significantly reducing gun violence in their communities. Reducing gun violence is a good initial focus for several reasons. While gun violence remains a problem in many communities, a variety of successful strategies are contributing to a nationwide 27 percent decline in crimes committed with firearms (see the Department of Justice report, Promising Strategies to Reduce Gun Violence). Gun violence can be targeted effectively by both state and federal laws. The federal government is supporting a number of partnerships to reduce gun violence initiatives that could benefit from being linked to each other and to good information. Further, this focus would support the efforts of the U.S. Attorneys and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Special Agents in Charge in all 94 judicial districts who are preparing integrated plans to reduce gun violence and who are seeking the participation of other law enforcement agencies, public officials, and community groups. These plans, which are to be completed by the end of August 1999, will contribute to an integrated national plan to reduce firearms violence.


  • Launch a Web site-supported network to assist and promote local law enforcement agencies and communities committed to reducing gun violence.

As noted above, the cost of introducing various crime-fighting technologies is a limiting factor for many communities. In response, President Clinton has proposed a 21st Century Policing Initiative to provide local law enforcement agencies with crime mapping and other tools. The initiative builds on the success of the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program by providing more community police officers and crime-fighting technologies to communities across the country. The President's fiscal year 2000 budget calls for a $350 million investment in crime mapping and other technologies.

The initiative will fund the next generation of crime-fighting hardware and software and will allow multiple law enforcement agencies to share and access information such as crime maps, arrest records, criminal justice data, arrestee photos, and more through regional networks. Having access to this information will enhance the crime analysis, investigation, apprehension, crime prevention, and recidivism reduction operations of all participants.


  • Appropriate funds for the 21st Century Policing Initiative, including:

    • state-of-the-art technology for police;

    • improved information flow among criminal justice agencies; and

    • integrated information systems (including geographic information systems) required for successful field operations, investigations, and problem-solving.

Communities and law enforcement agencies need and want easy access to federal resources that could help them build their capacity to use crime mapping and data-driven management. The Department of Justice has promising efforts under way to make information more accessible to the public. The Attorney General has created a Department of Justice Response Center to help local law enforcement agencies locate grants by topic area. The Center's toll-free number (1-800-421-6770) is an excellent first point of contact for communities seeking additional information. The Department of Justice's on-line services, such as the Crime Mapping Research Center Web site, have general information on grant opportunities. The Department plans to increase the amount of information available on training and technical assistance opportunities and to make it easier for communities to find information about funding for crime mapping hardware and software. In addition, the Department is developing a National Integration Resource Center for information on funding opportunities.


  • Expand information resources available through the Crime Mapping Research Center Web site.

  • Provide information about funding, training, and technical assistance for crime mapping and management through the Department of Justice Response Center and the National Integration Resource Center.

Mapping Out Crime Table of Contents

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