Justice helps police with free mapping software

Earlier this month, Justice Department officials handed out a free software program to police as part of a new crime prevention system.

The CD-ROM allows regional law enforcement agencies to store crime-mapping data, pinpointing areas of past criminal activity and the locations of known domestic violence criminals, gangs and prostitution rings, in a repository for sharing with other jurisdictions.

The system, called the Geospatial Repository for Analysis and Safety Planning (GRASP), would guide officers assigned to patrol roving perpetrators, such as the recent snipers and other serial offenders, by pinpointing optimal hiding locations and the spots of previous arrests.

Also, GRASP would assist police in any disaster during which officers would have to direct evacuations. Weather patterns such as hurricanes affect evacuation routes. Geographic information systems (GIS) could be used to map out search-and-rescue efforts, logistics and recovery planning.

Few local agencies have contributed to the repository so far, the system’s developers say.

GRASP is a joint effort of the National Institute of Justice and the University of Virginia’s Systems and Information Engineering Department.

John Morgan, acting director of NIJ, said any public safety effort would benefit from installing GRASP.

“In the wake of a major disaster, GIS could be used to map out search and rescue efforts, logistics and recovery planning,” he said.

Likely, during such an emergency, the needed geographic data would be spread across several regional computers. GRASP’s repository would make the information more readily available. Responders would be able to retrieve maps for the entire affected area, rather than calling each jurisdiction.

The Web-based software uses largely nonproprietary technology -- including Java, Extensible Markup Language and Scalable Vector Graphics -- to accommodate existing computing environments.

NIJ distributed 100 copies of the GRASP CD at its annual crime mapping research conference earlier this month. Crime analysts, law enforcement officers, corrections administrators and policy-makers attended the event.

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