How the 'safest' city does it

The high-tech biz and crime-mapping strategy in San Jose aids authorities in maintaining its 'Safest Big City' moniker

     When San Jose, California, Chief of Police Robert Davis looks back over his 27-year career in the city he calls home, he is awed by the changes.

     "The city's population is growing by 15 percent each year and we're still maintaining 1998 staffing levels," he says. "It's clear we have to employ technology to protect our community."

     Once a small Northern California farming community, San Jose now sits at the center of the high-tech industry in the United States, surrounded by the legendary technology giants; listing 25 companies with 1,000 employees or more, including the headquarters of Adobe Systems, BEA Systems, Cisco and eBay, as well as major facilities for Flextronics, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Hitachi and Lockheed Martin.

     San Jose, now the 10th largest city in America with an estimated population approaching 1 million residents, has received the "Safest Big City in America" acclamation for the last five consecutive years from Morgan Quitno Press, the publishing company that ranks cities and states based on crime figures from the FBI.

     To help maintain this prestigious ranking, Davis is somewhat of a technology hound, and relies on the newest applications available to law enforcement to enhance the capabilities of the department.

     Sometimes it's the easy solutions that bring the most cost-effective results. For example, when Davis realized that the newly installed CAD system had the capability for Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL), but turning it on crashed the system due to the large bandwidth requirements to run the application, he simply put out an RFP to rent bandwidth.

     Instead of redesigning a whole new system for AVL, San Jose PD now rents all the bandwidth they need and the system works perfectly.

     "So now we know where every vehicle is, and instead of sending the assigned car to a 911 call, we send the closest one," Davis says. "We also know where the first responding officer's backup unit is, and we can let them know immediately."

     The strategy of seeking the most cost-effective solution seems to come easily to Davis. Crime mapping is one way an agency looks at allocating resources. San Jose enjoys the lowest crime rate of any major city. Still, Davis says keeping a handle on trouble spots and certain kinds of illegal activity is crucial to holding that coveted title.

     "We are constantly monitoring our crime patterns to head off any foothold criminals may get in a certain area," Davis explains. "We respond to the slightest increase in violent crime of course, but also try to discourage the car thieves and drug dealers as well as gang activity."

     But the agency's existing crime mapping system was cumbersome and not user-friendly. It was not available to the public, and was not expandable for the future uses he had in mind. Again, Davis looked for the most cost-effective way to improve on this valuable tool.

     Crime Reports, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, had the answer Davis sought. And it would cost the city just $199 a month.

     "Crime Reports provides us with a service that we control, we can change, and we can use internally as well as make information available to the public in real time or with a few hours delay." Davis says. "They provide the hardware, software, updates, and we have a multifaceted crime mapping application that is very cost effective."

     "By participating in, the San Jose Police Department is demonstrating its commitment to service and safety by making crime information available to the citizens of San Jose," Greg Whisenant, co-founder and CEO of Public Engines, which makes the application, says. "Chief Davis and his staff are forward-looking, providing timely, location-specific information to the public when some law enforcement agencies are reluctant to do so," he says.

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