Justice to create regional data store

During the sniper shootings last October in the Washington, D.C., area, law enforcement officials asked the Justice Department's research arm to use mapping techniques to predict the shooters' next target.

But gathering spatial data from the relevant police jurisdictions proved to be an almost insurmountable task. Officials did not obtain the necessary data until after the two suspects were arrested.

"Out of this came a need to develop a spatial data repository," said Ronald Wilson, a senior research associate at the University of Michigan working with Justice's National Institute of Justice (NIJ). "Nobody had [data] all in one place."

So, Justice officials decided to create a map data store for regional analysis and planning. The Geospatial Repository for Analysis and Safety Planning (GRASP), run by the institute and the University of Virginia's Department of Systems and Information Engineering, would let local authorities upload and analyze detailed spatial data for regional events. The data store is housed at the university.

Wilson said it took several weeks last fall to collect law enforcement data related to Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, and the information was often mailed.

Part of the problem was that the law enforcement agencies' data stores evolved without standards, he said. As a result, data quality varies and there are few links for sharing data among jurisdictions. Adhering to national geographic information system (GIS) standards, a central database would keep everything in the same format for regional analysis, Wilson said.

GRASP is designed to do most of the hard work, said Bryan Vila, chief of NIJ's Crime Control and Prevention Research Division. "It's a wonderful, inexpensive, free tool that's now becoming available."

The project began three years ago, and officials have received another year of funding, Vila said. So far, the project has received about $30,000 each year, for a total of $120,000.

Vila said separate efforts under way to link national crime data, such as the Geospatial One-Stop e-government initiative, lack the level of detail needed for regional analysis.

GRASP "is meant for use on a regional basis, rather than nationwide," Vila said. "A group of counties or a group of police jurisdictions that found it in their own best interest to participate could upload data. This is a much longer-term, larger-scale effort."

GRASP could, however, link into Geospatial One-Stop, said Don Brown, GRASP principal investigator and a professor at the University of Virginia. Brown described the GRASP project as a boost to the e-government initiative, providing an example of how it could expand. "We think this is a good example of something that could be used within One-Stop."

The initiative is a centralized metadata catalog in which users can search for digital information. It is not intended to be a data warehouse but instead links users to where the geospatial data is stored, said Hank Garie, executive director of Geospatial One-Stop.

Garie said that although he was unfamiliar with GRASP, there is an opportunity to link the two projects. The geospatial data is organized by topics, and crime data could be posted there. He said the national effort is not limited by geography, and officials do ask local jurisdictions to post data.

"My hope would be if someone [were] organizing crime data, they could publish metadata to the One-Stop portal," he said. "My guess is there are logical relationships here."

One obstacle for the program is getting jurisdictions to provide data. Local officials often hesitate to share crime information because of political pressures or funding issues, Wilson said. One way around that is to start by sharing neutral data not connected to crime statistics, which will prove the program's benefits, he said.

"I bet you will always have at least one that will say, 'All right, I'll try that,'" he said. "You've built up some credibility.'

Bob Feliciano, professor of GIS and public safety at Rio Hondo Community College in Los Angeles County, Calif., said the project will only work with complete data, and jurisdictions will have to see beyond self-imposed barriers.

"The important issue is that we have to get beyond this mentality of borders," he said. "Information should flow like running water between jurisdictions."

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Crime maps

The Geospatial Repository for Analysis and Safety Planning is an initiative run by the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice and the University of Virginia's Department of Systems and Information Engineering.

The project is currently operating in two counties:

* Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, N.C.

* Baltimore County, Md.

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