Harnessing Geographic Data TechnologyA New Era in PolicingBy Shaun Hildebrand, Manager of Law Enforcement, Esri Canada and Ian Williams, Director of Information Management, Toronto Police ServiceIn an era flooded with data and technology, law enforcement finds itself grappling with a paradoxical issue: having too much information, yet not the right kind to empower officers on the ground. How do police organizations wade through large amounts of data and transform it into actionable insights for their frontline members? The answers lie within evidence-based policing, an approach that combines law enforcement with the precision of data analytics.EVIDENCE-BASED POLICING: A BRIEF OVERVIEW Impacts Employing data analytics and evidence-based approaches allows police organizations to optimize resources for enhanced crime prevention. Decisions anchored in data foster transparency and accountability, bridging trust between communities and the police. The ultimate result is a tangible reduction in crime rates and bolstered public safety.Benefits Rather than being largely reactive, law enforcement can proactively pinpoint crime trends and hotspots. With analytics, resource allocation becomes sharper: officers are deployed strategically, crime prevention becomes targeted and officer safety is elevated.Barriers Despite its promise, the journey towards full-scale evidence-based approaches has its obstacles. Reliable data can be elusive, and shifting to an evidence-based approach may require a cultural shift within police services. Obsolete technology, privacy concerns and a lack of buy-in from members can further obstruct its implementation.As the Toronto Police Service (TPS) highlights, overcoming these barriers can help us unlock transformative policing capabilities.A CASE STUDY IN INNOVATION Facing the dual dilemma of data inundation and scarcity, TPS recognized the solution was not more information, but better information. From this realization came a two-pronged focus: one, meticulously managed information; and two, its display on maps, as maps offer an intuitive, universally understood medium of data representation.In 2019, in response to the shifting dynamics of law enforcement, TPS initiated a project that culminated in an array of proactive policing tools. Harnessing a user-friendly Geographic Information Systems (GIS) platform technology and integrating it with police records resulted in several innovative tools, including:The Firearm Bail Compliance Dashboard: a live application that tracks firearm and gang-related offenders on bail. By optimizing the use of technology, police agencies are able to share real-time violent offender data across all jurisdictions, province wide. This technology provides officers on patrol with location-based information and leverages bail data to assist with unrelated investigations.Pushpin: a digital bulletin board for wanted offenders, officer safety alerts, missing persons and persons to be identified for outstanding crimes. While officers upload their geospatial information, Pushpin bulletins are delivered to the officers’ mobile workstations and cell phones as they patrol. This creates real-time situational awareness, while increasing officer and public safety.Interactive Crime Map: an application that overlays offenders on bail and persons to be identified in proximity to where shootings, robberies, sexual assaults and other major crimes have occurred. Community Policing Initiatives: using a neighbourhood/divisional-centric service-delivery model and leveraging data analytics and environmental scanning to evaluate crime trends to assess and mitigate criminal risk. Information on community issues is shared among service members through an interactive map-based dashboard. This allows members to detect and prevent crime, be where the public needs us the most, embrace partnerships to create safe communities and better meet the needs of a complex city.Beyond these tools, TPS’s success resides in its embracement of a human-centric agile methodology, rewarding officers for technological adoption and proactive endeavours.To truly harness emerging technology, TPS realized that the solution did not necessarily lie with tech experts, but with their own officers. Detective Constable Shaun Hildebrand, with 15 years of policing experience and no tech background, took the lead in this area and participated in a tech accelerator program at Toronto Metropolitan University. Today, he is the owner of the many tools mentioned above.Shaun’s policing experience offered a unique lens – an understanding of law enforcement’s nuances, investigative techniques and criminal behaviour. His experience and newfound tech insight made Shaun the perfect liaison to bridge frontline requirements with technological solutions.SHIFTING THE POLICING PARADIGM Putting the evidence-based model in place requires combining innovating demands with multi-faceted strategies:Leadership Support: Start with a proof of concept, earn leadership buy-in, provide continuous updates and seek their feedback. The input and advocacy of your leadership team is critical to success.Training and Education: At TPS, officers are trained by their peers – those they can relate to. This strategy aims to build trust in the new systems.Engagement: Engage officers and key users from the beginning. It’s important to seek their feedback , refine tools and recognize their contributions. When feedback is heard and incorporated, the chances of buy-in and adoption of processes increase.Recognition: Always take the time to recognize the efforts of members doing this work. For example, while conducting routine tasks without notable results (e.g., arrests or tickets issued), officers felt unseen. By incorporating these efforts into performance reviews, TPS ensured every self-initiated proactive policing act, no matter how small, is acknowledged.Continuous Improvement: Always seek feedback , iterate and evolve tools to cater to the ever-shifting needs of policing.Alert fatigue and information overwhelm are real concerns. The solution lies in customization – allowing officers to filter alerts according to their roles and responsibilities. But alongside these, there are non-negotiable alerts, ensuring that critical information is never overlooked.For TPS, simplicity was the motto: envisioning applications with straightforward interfaces, minimizing complexities and maximizing relevance.ENHANCING COLLABORATION FOR SAFER COMMUNITIES We know that criminals do not adhere to geographic boundaries. This plays a notable role when it comes to committing crimes in one jurisdiction and getting bail at a residence in another jurisdiction.Through the development of the Firearm Bail Compliance Dashboard and Pushpin, TPS is leading the way in breaking down these geographic barriers. By utilizing these innovative tools, officers are now equipped with the necessary information to prevent and respond to crimes more efficiently, ultimately enhancing public safety. The flow of cross-border information allows policing agencies to have a comprehensive understanding of ongoing incidents, criminal activities and emerging threats. This real-time knowledge empowers them to make informed decisions and respond effectively.With more than 1,600 active firearm bail offenders and an additional 3,400 previous bail offenders on the dashboard from coast to coast, officers are able to glean valuable intelligence through description filters, proximity offences, person descriptors and licence plates noted during proactive bail compliance checks. To date, the Firearm Bail Compliance dashboard has been instrumental in solving multiple homicides, an interagency abduction, multiple carjackings and robberies. It has also assisted in the recovery of multiple firearms.During the onboarding process of the Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS) to the Firearm Bail Compliance Dashboard, it became evident that TPS had charged more than 70 firearm offenders who were actively on bail within the Durham Region. This helped DRPS increase its awareness and focus efforts involving these offenders by utilizing this collaborative tool. This highlights the immense value of interagency collaboration in addressing complex and cross-jurisdictional challenges.Through analysis of bail compliance checks, crime analysts have shown that there is a positive correlation between bail compliance checks and reducing rates of breach while on bail. Additionally, analysts have been able to identify additional operational insights that provide valuable direction to units across the organization. It also assists police agencies in providing bail offenders with referrals to outside agencies, such as employment, financial assistance and gang-exit strategy programs.MOVING FORWARD WITH EVIDENCE-BASED POLICING Addressing these challenges demands a holistic approach involving leadership support, sufficient resources, training, collaboration and dedication to evidence-based strategies.As for the future, TPS emphasizes continuous improvement, adaptation and collaboration to ensure that their strategies remain relevant and efficient. While technology and evidence-based approaches present challenges, they also offer an unprecedented opportunity to enhance public safety, officer efficiency and community trust. TPS’s endeavours serve as a testament to what can be achieved when data, technology and proactive strategies come together.Shaun Hildebrand, the Manager for Law Enforcement Solutions at Esri Canada, leverages his 21 years of experience as a uniformed member and undercover drug squad officer. In his previous role as the Innovation Lead within Toronto Police’s Analytics & Innovation Unit, Shaun focused on designing and managing the development of a suite of proactive policing tools, providing real-time situational awareness to frontline and investigative officers. Shaun is now leading the way in designing solutions specifically for police officers at Esri Canada, with the motto of “cops designing for cops.” He can be reached at shildebrand@esri.ca.As the Director of Information Management at the Toronto Police Service, Ian Williams is responsible for advancing the quality, flow and use of information. Ian drives organization-wide process improvements around information quality and access to create tangible benefits for officers, the service and the public. Ian oversees units including the Records Management Unit, Analytics & Innovation, Data Management, Property & Evidence Management and Information Privacy & Security. Ian has a master’s degree in Public Policy, Administration & Law and in Spatial Analysis. He also holds a BA in Geographic Analysis and graduate diplomas in Justice System Administration and International & Security Studies. He can be reached at ian.williams@torontopolice.on.ca.
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