city enlists citizens in online crime fighting

City enlists citizens in online crime fighting

Even in the best places, crime is always going to be a problem. Thankfully, for many mid-sized American cities, the majority of those offenses are either misdemeanors or property crimes. Chico, Calif., is one such place. Nestled in the northern Sacramento Valley, Chico’s 86,000 residents enjoy a low crime rate compared to many other cities.

Even so, the volume of minor crimes was creating a unique challenge for the Chico Police Department's 84 officers and 240 civilian support staff.

Police officers were getting tied down with the less serious crimes, which was taking away their ability to focus on preventing and investigating the more serious community problems. Budget constraints in recent years also meant working with fewer officers, even as the population grew, something that was making the influx of minor crimes an even bigger manpower burden than before.

Chico Police Captain Lori MacPhail said when the city decided to replace its 20-year old Records Management System/Computer-Aided Dispatch (RMS/CAD) system, the town discovered the benefits of citizen-aided crime fighting.

"We were in need of a new RMS/CAD system and had vendors come in to make presentations," she said. "During those presentations we learned that most of the new systems were using a program called Coplogic as one component, so we decided to have them come in as well."

Coplogic allows citizens to report certain crimes to police using an online portal, rather than requiring an officer to visit the scene. It's been implemented in 450 districts across the country so far. "Allowing citizens to fill out incident reports obviously saves police departments time and money, but it also leads to a more accurate report," said Director of Coplogic James Lee.

"Instead of being stressed about an officer visiting their home and trying to think about everything that might have been taken on the spot, people can look around and accurately report on every possible detail." Citizens can even submit photos of damaged or stolen items as part of the process, leading to an even more accurate description of the crime.

Back at the police station, a staff member reviews every report that comes in through Coplogic. Reports can then be sent back to citizens with requests for more information, turned into official police reports or in some cases, lead to having an officer dispatched to the scene.

In Chico, Records Technician Christina DeGorge works with the Coplogic reports. "I check [reports] for accuracy, make sure that the crime occurred within our jurisdiction, make sure that it's filed under the correct crime and then add a case number and put it into the RMS."

As part of the reporting process, citizens must provide a valid email address. Once a case report is generated, the person who reported the crime is emailed a .PDF of the document.

Chico launched its Coplogic portal in January following an extensive public relations campaign to teach citizens about how to use the new system. Because Coplogic is cloud-based, Chico had minimal hardware expenses, and could use its existing equipment to allow its records department to access the site.

The report data collected from citizens is housed at a secure data center run by Coplogic, and all communications between the data repository and the Chico police department are protected by 128-bit encryption.

Chico purchased the program for $19,000, which includes the first year of support and maintenance, a fee that is based on the size of the jurisdiction. Thereafter the city will pay $7,000 per year to maintain it. But those costs have already been recouped many times over in the first six months according to MacPhail.

The system has been used over 2,000 times since the first of the year. "Figuring about one officer hour per report the old way, we have saved about $60,000 in staff time alone," MacPhail said.

Coplogic has had little negative impact on operations. There are a few examples, MacPhail said, though they are minor.

DeGorge and the records technicians are experiencing an increased workload, though MacPhail says much of that is due to the town's aging RMS, which still needs to be replaced. Once upgraded to a more modern system, it will more easily integrate with Coplogic. Some citizens also may not have Internet access or don’t want to use a computer to report a crime. Those people can fill outpaper reports at headquarters mail them in.

The Coplogic program may also be getting a bit of an upgrade. The Coplogic company was recently acquired by LexisNexis, which deploys another program that is popular with police departments, eCrash.

The eCrash program is similar to Coplogic, but is installed on tablets or mobile devices used by officers in the field responding to accidents. It can be used to pre-populate line items in incident reports and electronically file crash information from the field.

"We give the eCrash program to police departments for free," said Roy Marler, vice president of emerging markets, insurance, for LexisNexis Risk Solutions. "That gives them access to analytics, the ability to lookup the records of people involved in accidents and they can quickly make the report available for sale to interested parties like lawyers and insurance companies. We make a small percentage of that fee."

There is quite a lot of overlap between the two programs. Of the 450 police departments using Coplogic, about half also use eCrash. Marler says the company plans to merge the administration portion of the two programs with a single sign-on interface for a start, making each more efficient overall. Other changes could be on the horizon for both as well, such as adding features found in one to the other wherever it makes sense for their customers.

"Our goal is to make it so that police departments can save even more time and money using those programs," Marler said. "And we expect to begin implementing those changes early next year." 

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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