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Public safety agencies across Northwest Indiana are changing the way they do business to provide better services to their communities and create or maintain the environment needed for economic development and growth.

In 2014, 15 agencies across the region joined with Indiana University Northwest and NIPSCO to create the Northwest Indiana Public Safety Data Consortium, a privately funded, university administered collaborative mapping system that is the first of its kind in the nation.

The data collaborative brings mapping and analytical capability to each community to deal with their own crime and quality of life issues, but also permits and encourages agencies to access information across the region. The Northwest Indiana Public Safety Consortium utilizes a cloud-based GIS organizational account shared by all the participants, which include: the Gary Police Department, East Chicago Police Department, Griffith Police Department, Schererville Police Department, Merrillville Police Department, Munster Police Department, Highland Police Department, St. John Police Department, IU Northwest Police Department, Porter County Sheriff’s Office, Portage Police Department, Valparaiso Police Department, Michigan City Police Department, Lake County Felony Probation and Laporte County Probation.

The approach created by this collaborative endeavor has provided departments with a wealth of information — from crime calls to rental properties and business locations — so they can analyze and respond to crime trends more precisely and in a data-driven manner. The information uploaded, created by and used by the departments, at no charge to the departments or cost to taxpayers, is also used to help NIPSCO provide services across the region.

As the project has progressed, departments have begun to share crime maps with their communities through social media and on departmental websites, permitting citizens and business owners to get accurate, current and detailed information about crime and quality of life issues in their communities. This approach encourages the community to participate in the process of policing through being informed and aware of problems, their location and prevalence. Furthermore, it provides police and other public safety agencies with a technological tool that they did not have prior, hopefully changing the business of public safety in the region in the coming years.

The immediate goal of this consortium is to use information to better decision making, set policy, use data driven resource allocations, plan strategically and create conditions across the entire region for economic development through enhanced public safety. This type of collaboration — privately funded, university administered, department utilized and community involved — is a model for future endeavors throughout the region.

The government, in all functions and activities, increasingly uses private sector concepts and includes private sector partners to address increasingly complex social issues from crime, to economic development, urban blight, education, transportation, environmental and public health. The Northwest Indiana Public Safety Data Consortium is predicated upon the notion that all sectors must play a collaborative part in the health and future of our communities, combining the resources of the private sector with the expertise of higher education professionals and the mission and goals of government.

Such an approach is essential if communities want more effective, efficient and equitable public safety, the main foundation upon which successful and long lasting economic growth and development is built. The longer range goal of the consortium is to have every community across the region be a part of the consortium, leading to more quality criminal justice systems, lower crime and an enhanced quality of life for all citizens, business owners and visitors.

Joseph Ferrandino was a 20 Under 40 honoree in 2013.

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