HUD, DOJ use mapping for crime reduction

The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the National Institute of Justice plan to launch this summer a geographic information system (GIS) application designed to reduce crime in public housing projects.

The Computer Mapping of Crime in Public Housing program will track emergency "911" calls at two or three public housing developments in Charlotte, N.C., to determine how space and environment are affecting crime. The project will be tested over the next 18 months and, if it is deemed a success, the system could be replicated at many of the 3,300 public housing developments nationwide.

After answering a 911 call, officers with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (County) Police Department will enter the location of the crime, the type of crime committed and any environmental factors - such as dim or no lighting or if drugs are involved - in the GIS database. Officers, who have never recorded such detailed information before, may also use Global Positioning System units to specifically and automatically locate crime scenes on a map.

Unlike other GIS programs that some other police departments have installed, this system will re-create maps of public housing developments in three dimensions. Crimes will be pinpointed to specific areas, including apartments, stairwells, lobbies, hallways, playgrounds and parking lots.

Traditionally, crimes in public housing have been recorded using a building's address, which does not include an apartment number or any other location in the building, or crimes have been recorded at a single census tract, which could include several public housing structures and the surrounding neighborhoods.

"Right now we don't have any good, concrete way to pinpoint how bad crime is and exactly where it occurs," said Kevin Neary, director of HUD's Program Evaluation Division. "This way, we'll calculate crime rates and, specifically, where they are occurring."

After several months, crime patterns should emerge from looking at the maps, said Richard Lumb, director of research and planning for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

"We may find out that doing something as simple as putting in lights will deter crime," he said.

Lumb said the police department has worked closely with the Charlotte Housing Authority and the residents of the public housing projects to report crimes and to offer solutions.

A workstation will be installed at each of the participating public housing developments and at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. The two systems will be linked so that information can be exchanged. The type of workstations and the GIS software package have yet to be determined, although the Charlotte police department uses Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc.'s Arc/Info.

HUD and Justice Department officials are considering equipping Charlotte officers with laptops that are tied into the GIS database so that officers could view the history of crime at a public housing unit and watch a video of the layout of the building to find out possible entry points and alert themselves to any danger.

Lyna Wiggins, associate director of the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University and the creator of the GIS project, said the computer system will be located at different public housing sites, including a high-rise, a town house development and disbursed housing, such as Section 8 housing, which sometimes has higher crime rates than public housing developments.

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