Smarter Policing

Much like the day public safety had to put down the pencils and cards and move to the keyboard, emergency service faces major changes in the way things are done. Other industries jumped light-years ahead of law enforcement in their ability to utilize technology successfully. Today public safety is coming up from behind. With a changing geographic permeating the force, and major companies working towards making hardware and software match what law enforcement needs, we’re seeing a change in the model of police work moving from traditional policing to information-based policing on small and large scales.

Connecting the dots

Not much has changed about policing since the first officer walked the beat tasked with maintaining the peace. Within this realm, the community expects its agency to assess, control and prevent crime. Through traditional means, officers have relied on a knowledge-base built from observation and communication with other officers and experts in their field. The importance of this hasn’t changed. What has is the advancement of technology helping officers connect the dots faster.

“At Chandler (Ariz.) Police Department, they were doing things manually,” states Splunk Director of State and Local Government John Zarour referencing their software platform. “Historically, they had to print out different reports and sift through them. Today, all that data goes into Splunk in real time and gives them the ability to look at it which saves money.” All the data is automatically entered into the software and officers see customized dashboards which improve their operational intelligence. “They will be able to see trends and detect anomalies and other things,” explains Zarour. Chandler Officer Nate Jacobs believes technology is one part of good policing. “It gives an opportunity to use good, solid data to make the best decisions,” he says. “Before decisions were based purely on intuition.” Utilizing the Splunk platform, Chandler developed and provided patrol officers with resources to see crime hot spots within their beat. By doing so, officers can address them in traditional ways. New generations of officers have come to expect this kind of technological support.

Technological generation

Younger generations of officers are more comfortable with technology and finding more exciting ways to apply it states John Lingerfelt, Public Safety Lead, Smarter Cities, IBM. Lingerfelt spent 17 years with the Metropolitan DC Police Department, including being assigned the Chief Intelligence Officer before retiring and entering the commercial technological business. The new officer has the ability to imagine and adapt technology to whatever they want it to do. “We’ll put a tool out there for A, B and C and very rapidly they will extend its functionality to do E and F,” he states. “That’s exciting to watch.” This generation grew up with the Internet and is more tech savvy.

“That’s the new paradigm of how work gets done—not just in policing,” explains Mark Cleverley, Director of Public Safety, IBM. “Access to huge computing power is normal. These people are more used to having these sorts of tools at their fingertips. Over time those skill sets will merge. A police officer will have all applicable analyst skills and patrol skills. It’s fast moving and has quick potential.” Like Splunk, IBM is assisting with the movement and potential of technology within public safety.

i2 Intelligent law enforcement

IBM offers a variety of products in support of law enforcement goals and duties. Platforms such as i2 Intelligent Law Enforcement’s CopLink and Analyst’s Notebook allow officers to develop investigative leads and calculate data very rapidly. It takes information from police reports and witness statements and develops relationships, patterns and allows comparisons. “Beyond those two products,” states Cleverley, “We’re looking at integration that looks at predictive analytics. There’s a real-time role and a back-up role that says let’s outline what the trends are and [find] the area where crime is most likely to occur. Then we are able to deploy resources more effectively. These are becoming more feasible in ordinary police departments.” Intelligent-led policing allows agencies to get a clearer idea of what public safety needs are and moves law enforcement into more of a preventive box. Lingerfelt explains prevention is supported by the ability to analyze and understand probabilities.

On the down-side of technology, Lingerfelt feels people often overestimate what can be done. “There are some big claims being made,” he says. “One of the things is to not overstate what technology can do. This is in support of people who have been in this job for years. It’s not replacing what they do. It’s not magic. It’s just the natural progression of the use of technology in this type of job.” Jacobs agrees, “Relying on data might not give you the truth about what’s happening in a neighborhood.” Officers need to pair this technology with traditional policing to get the best of both worlds. Nothing takes the place of feet on the ground but technology can assist and supplement this in truly amazing ways. “It’s most important benefit is that it enables the searching and coordinating of huge amounts of information rapidly,” says Lingerfelt. “That’s why the investigator or the officer responding to the event, given the proper data sets, can produce investigative leads that would otherwise take days. It takes only seconds.”

Technology encourages partnerships

As law enforcement agencies try to access and finance advancing technology, they’ve found working together creates more opportunities. Looking at public safety on a larger scale uncovered important relationships not only between big and small agencies, but also other departments such as transportation, public works and public health. Searching for answers on how technology can expand and assist partnerships even more, IBM developed the Smarter Cities Challenge.

Smarter Cities, St. Louis

A city known for its brews, shoes and being the Gateway to the West, St. Louis is steeped in history and its police department is not untouched. Until September 2013, the City of St. Louis did not have control over its own police force. During the Civil War, Missouri’s Segregationist Governor Claiborne Jackson did not want the Unionist City to have control over its arsenal. Instead of having the police under the authority of the city mayor, the mayor was assigned just one seat on a five-seat, state-appointed Board of Police Commissioners. After 152 years of state control, the citizens finally decided it was time to change, and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department now has a new boss.

Just a few years prior to this change, in 2011, St. Louis was one of 24 cities to earn a grant from IBM as part of the company’s effort to build a Smarter Planet. “The Smarter Cities Challenge was set up to allow the philanthropic side of IBM to set up with the business side,” explains Cleverley. “Technology has a role to play in improving society. We sent teams to cities for intensive periods of time to work on specific problems so the city would benefit. But also we would begin to understand what problems they were really focused on. Both sides benefit from that.”

St. Louis, along with having an intriguing history, also had a very real present day problem. “St. Louis was very, very hurt by being labeled the U.S. Most Deadly City,” says Lingerfelt. “This is an absurd label, and this helped accelerate its already declining economies. There was a company that was going to locate there and based on that one factor they went to another city and took all their jobs with them. It’s a great city with hard working people, but they haven’t been able to invest in technology.” In comes the IBM team, including Lingerfelt, who spent six weeks interviewing hundreds of criminal justice professionals and doing ride-alongs in St. Louis. “Very quickly, within days, some consistent problems and messages identified themselves as being basic contributors to the larger problem,” says Lingerfelt. “We developed 27 recommendations.” One of the major recommendations was a partnership with the criminal justice graduate program at the University of Missouri—St. Louis. Other recommendations included changes in partnerships and technology. “The key requirement to the recommendations is that every single recommendation had to be doable,” Lingerfelt explains. “Pie in the sky would not be useful or offered. Every recommendation was given with how to afford it and how to implement it.”

Along with technology, the partnerships developed by the challenge were a benefit. “The really interesting projects in Smarter Cities are crossing traditional boundaries,” explains Cleverley. “The technology part of the equation is not the difficult side. It’s not simple, but the tricky part of the process is the governance and establishing the right coalitions and leadership lines to cross those boundaries and work together regardless of the technology. To break the historical chains that have held us back from collaborating.”

Eddie Roth, Deputy Chief of Staff to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay explains how St. Louis Metropolitan PD took the recommendations. “None of the general themes came as a surprise but some of the subtleties and opportunities for improvement were exceedingly helpful,” he explains. “The process of sitting down and talking through and describing where there are gaps was extremely helpful.” Although the recommendations were doable, that didn’t mean they were easy. “The scale of the recommendations was immense,” states Roth. “We had some major barriers with information sharing, starting with independent offices with their own technology and everyone is busy. You can sit around a table and talk at the end of the day about where there are opportunities to share information but the initial forces are tremendous and it’s hard to get traction without having a specific task at hand where we can actually see things happen in a focused way.” Another recommendation brought Roth on board as the Chief Performance Officer and brought Chief Sam Dodson to the top leadership role. A police captain with a reputation of being a good cop and a superb administrator, Dodson could view everything through a lens of public safety.

“As a result of a year working with the University of Missouri—St. Louis and Sam Dodson, the department is poised as it moves to a new headquarters to leap forward in its use of technology in intelligence matters, and examining what other cities are doing in their intelligence centered policing practices.

Public safety is at a point where it’s being forced to make fundamental changes. “Using technology will be a necessity,” states Lingerfelt. “That’s all there is to it.” As the recommendations to St. Louis are moving across all the divisions of the city and integrated technology implemented, the city is seeing improvements not only in statistic, but also in reputation. “We’re doing better and better,” concludes Roth. “St. Louis is steadily becoming a safe city in all its neighborhoods and this has really helped us.” Hardware and software platforms offered by companies like Splunk and IBM are helping agencies big and small. “We have worked for many years around the world to help with technology,” explains Cleverley. “This is the next continuum of the explosion of technology. Let’s look at how we can take advantage of this technology when budgets are being cut and the levels of traditional policing are declining. This is information-based policing. It’s not replacing more typical methods—it enhances it.”


Michelle Perin has been a freelance writer since 2000. In December 2010, she earned her Master’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice from Indiana State University.