Toronto police struggle with GIS' success

THE TORONTO POLICE Service was an early adopter of geographic information system technology, using MapInfo Professional software in the early 1990s to plot crime locations for preventative analysis.

Now, 23 Toronto police analysts use GIS to analyze crime, said Det. Constable Manny San Pedro, the service's crime analysis training and development coordinator.

The analysts generate weekly crime reports that display the geographic arrangement of incidents based on data gathered from arrest reports, 911 calls and other sources. 'It shows where things have happened during the past week and compares that to where things happened in the previous week,' San Pedro said. 'They [also] try to identify patterns.'

The reports are sent as electronic bulletin boards to employees in the field, and divisional analysts have electronic bulletin boards on mobile workstations in patrol cars.

As helpful as that effort has been, San Pedro said, the data is not as easy to access in the field as he'd prefer. And officers can't run queries against the data from the field. 'We're working toward delivering our MapXtreme [Web] application, which will allow frontline officers to see what has happened during the previous shift over the past week or two,' he said.

'And we're looking to give the frontline officers the ability to [query directly] and drill down further.'

Analysts also have limited ability to bring in data from different sources. 'What we are working toward is some type of metadata layer that allows us to...tap into the various different data sources regardless of where they are and be able to display that spatially or in a tabular format,' San Pedro said.

The challenges can be seen as a measure of success. 'We are creating a critical mass,' he said. 'We are starting to change the attitudes of people within the organization. We are starting to get greater demands of our analytical products. More and more units are starting to warm to the idea that an analyst can produce some products that they can base their tactical and strategic decisions on.'

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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