Justice to create regional data store

When sniper shootings took place last October in the Washington, D.C., area, law enforcement officials asked the Justice Department to use mapping techniques to predict the shooters' next target areas.

But gathering spatial data from the police jurisdictions involved proved to be almost insurmountable. Officials only obtained the necessary information 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. "Nobody had [data] all in one place. There was a lot of data."

So Justice officials decided to create a map data store for regional analysis and planning. The Geospatial Repository for Analysis and Safety Planning — run by the institute of with the University of Virginia's Department of Systems and Information Engineering — would let local authorities analyze detailed spatial data for regional events.

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

"It was relatively quick, but it wasn't quick enough, based on the events unfolding," Wilson said, adding that data must be available immediately so officials can rapidly identify trends and examine crime scenes.

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 data sharing among jurisdictions. A central database would keep everything in the same format for regional analysis, Wilson said.

The proposed data bank would do most of the hard work, said Bryan Vila, chief of the institute's Crime Control and Prevention Research Division. He described it as a "wonderful" tool.

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 out by sharing neutral data not connected to crime statistics. This will prove the program and show the benefit, he said.

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

Vila said there are separate efforts under way to pool national crime data into a common warehouse, but it lacked the high level of detail needed for regional analysis. Officials just received another year of funding for the national project, he said.

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