A community-wide data-sharing tool between Indiana University Northwest and local law enforcement agencies is already in use in several municipalities.
With the help of IUN’s Center of Urban and Regional Excellence, Joseph Ferrandino, an associate professor of criminal justice, began in 2012 analyzing crime and emergency-call data for the city of Gary. Ferrandino’s maps and reports helped the city better allocate its resources.
Today, more than 15 local agencies are working with Ferrandino on what has become the Northwest Indiana Public Safety Data Consortium.
Police departments can use the online-mapping system to work together and analyze and share data across boundaries.
“This is kind of unprecedented,” Ferrandino said. “This is the first of its kind in the country with this many agencies, across this kind of platform, with this kind of information-sharing.”
A new, more streamlined online system allowing more departments to participate was made possible through a $20,000 donation from NIPSCO. The program will not cost the departments anything for two years.
“It allows us to learn how to use it, and where to go in the future without this huge expense,” Ferrandino said.
NIPSCO Director of Corporate Security Jim Miller said the utility company is inputting its facility data into the system as well.
“So when we need assistance from law enforcement, whether it’s a terrorist threat to one of our substations or something along those lines, it helps enable law enforcement to know where our sites are,” he said.
“When we have the need for them to respond to something, they have that data right there at their fingertips. Dr. Ferrandino is really doing some groundbreaking stuff. It could really be a model for other regions in the country.”
Miller said NIPSCO employees are out in the community every day, so anything it can do to make the community safer ultimately makes its customers and employees safer.
Miller said the donation should handle the expenses for a couple years, and after that he said they’ll probably revisit it.
Ferrandino said the process of training analysts in each department has been underway, so the program will become a long-term sustainable initiative.
“We’ve gone from one analyst working with 15 departments to 15 departments all having analysts who work with us,” Ferrandino said. “This is supposed to live on and grow.”
Portage patrolman Bob Crecelius has been trained to use the system, which officers can access on a smart phone or iPad.
“What I was taught in the police academy is anything you can put in your tool belt to be a better police officer to be more efficient and more effective, is going to be helpful,” Crecelius said.
“This is going to help me know where crime is coming from and be more effective in my policing tactics when I’m on the road. If I can be more effective and efficient, that’s only going to better my department and community.”
Gary Police Chief Wade Ingram said he’s been implementing a lot of things Ferrandino suggested to him.
“We know 80,000 people in Gary aren’t involved in crime,” he said. “You have 1,500, maybe 2,000, people actively involved in crime. We’ve targeted those groups of individuals, and a lot of it is through this mapping.
“We’re visiting high-risk people and we don’t have to go through a file cabinet or look through a stack of papers. It’s easy to look at a crime now. It’s been very helpful for the Gary Police Department.”
Crime-mapping's practical uses abound
Police departments can make some of the information public if they choose. Portage Police Chief Troy Williams said he can post updates weekly to Facebook, or take the information to a neighborhood watch meeting.
Williams cited an example of how shared information can help stem crime. Throught he updates, a resident can see there’s been a lot of burglaries in the neighborhood where they live, and they can call the department to report that the burglaries began when someone new moved into the area.
“I have a lead I wouldn’t have had, because I wouldn’t have had that outreach to the public,” he said. “I might not know a new person has moved into a neighborhood, but the entire block will know.”
Munster Police Sgt. Daymon Johnston said the mapping is something that’s really been needed in the region.
“Communication sometimes is difficult as far as getting information from all these different agencies, because everyone is so different,” he said.
“Geographically, sometimes it’s difficult to communicate with these agencies to get all this information. With this program, we’re able to pull it up immediately. The spirit of this thing is sharing information which can be difficult at times in law enforcement, especially traditionally.”
Griffith Police Chief Greg Mance said it’s a matter of taking all the data out there and “putting it in one easy-to-use interactive cloud.”
Evolution of collaboration
Gary Deputy Chief Larry McKinley said the program shows how law enforcement, especially in Northwest Indiana, has evolved.
“I’ve been a police officer for 15 years, and I’ve never seen a collaborative effort sharing data the way we’ve come together now,” he said.
One of the first agencies to join the program was East Chicago. Police Chief Mark Becker said the program “makes us look real good."
“We’re taking all this information we have and funneling it into a database and making use of it,” he said. “It allows us now to map out and say, ‘go here.’ All these proactive things we can do, with Ferrandino’s assistance.”
Ellen Szarleta, of the Center of Urban and Regional Excellence, said the agencies in the program are investing in their capacity and have the commitment to making their communities better. She also lauded Ferrandino’s willingness to do community-based research.
“It takes a lot of work,” she said.
Ferrandino said the program is open to any other departments and agencies in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.
“It’s fun to work with departments in this manner,” he said.