At a conference in New Orleans in 2007, Jon Greiner, then the chief of police in Ogden, Utah, heard a presentation by the New York City Police Department about a sophisticated new data hub called a “real time crime center.” Reams of information rendered in red and green splotches, dotted lines, and tiny yellow icons appeared as overlays on an interactive map of New York City: Murders. Shootings. Road closures. You could see the routes of planes landing at LaGuardia and the schedules of container ships arriving at the mouth of the Hudson River. 

In the early 1990s, the NYPD had pioneered a system called CompStat that aimed to discern patterns in crime data, since widely adopted by large police departments around the country. With the real time crime center, the idea was to go a step further: What if dispatchers could use the department’s vast trove of data to inform the police response to incidents as they occurred?

Back in Ogden, population 82,702, the main problem on Greiner’s mind was a stubbornly high rate of vehicle burglaries. As it was, the department’s lone crime analyst was left to look for patterns by plotting addresses on paper maps, or by manually calculating the average time between similar crimes in a given area. The city had recently purchased license-plate readers with money from a federal grant, but it had no way to integrate the resulting archive of images with the rest of the department’s investigations. It was obvious that much more could be made of the data on hand.

“I’m not New York City,” Greiner thought, “but I could scale this down with the right software.” Greiner called a former colleague who’d gone to work for Esri, a large mapping company, and asked what kinds of disparate information he might put on a map. The answer, it turned out, was anything you could put in a spreadsheet: the address history of people on parole—sorting for those with past drug, burglary, or weapons convictions—or the respective locations of car thefts and car recoveries, to see if joyrides tended to end near the joyrider’s home. You could watch police cars and fire trucks move around the city, or plot cell-phone records over time to look back at a suspect’s whereabouts during the hours before and after a crime. 

Eric Young, a 28-year
veteran of the department,
became Ogden’s chief of
police in January.NIKI CHAN WYLIE

In 2021, it might be simpler to ask what can’t be mapped. Just as Google and social media have enabled each of us to reach into the figurative diaries and desk drawers of anyone we might be curious about, law enforcement agencies today have access to powerful new engines of data processing and association. Ogden is hardly the tip of the spear: police agencies in major cities are already using facial

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By: Rowan Moore Gerety
Title: Inside the rise of police department real-time crime centers
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Published Date: Mon, 19 Apr 2021 09:00:00 +0000

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