New software gives Tampa police real time crime stats - compliments of RNC security funding

09/07/12 Janelle Irwin
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Tampa police unveiled new software today they say helped reduce crime during the Republican National Convention last week. The system lets officers see where crime is happening as it happens.

It used to take seven days to see a map of where crimes occurred in Tampa. Now it only takes minutes. Before his shift even started, Corporal Kert Rojka found out there were shots fired in the area he regularly patrols and a suspect hadn’t been identified yet.

“I start checking emails, I’ll check any calls holding and then I went into this system this morning because this is new and I pulled up some of the blogs created for my area. Because in the blogs, we’re able to sort them by our district; we’re able to sort them by our sector. I’m in district two, so the first thing I’m looking for is anything in district two and then I can go to my sector – I have sector C primarily so I look in sector C and right off the back I saw there was something here – there was a shooting at an apartment complex. So, I wanted to pull that up and that happened last night and otherwise I wouldn’t have known about it as quickly as I did.”

The program is called SAFECOP. That stands for Situational Awareness for Enforcers’ Common Operating Picture. It allows Tampa police officers to immediately add a crime to an online map once they’ve checked it out. According to Assistant Police Chief John Bennett, the longer it takes to apprehend a suspect, the more likely they are to commit another crime.

“Once it’s validated the officer can immediately put that crime on the map instead of in the past where we would wait seven days for the records management cycle to process the crime. The analysts would take it, harvest it, put it on a map and then we’d have a meeting about it. Seven days is fast in the world of crime fighting, but if you can do that in real time moment by moment, essentially we’re having a meeting every minute by this in-car fusion.”

Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said the software gives officers the tools to more efficiently track crime so they have a better chance of being where they’re most needed.

“They can go to a map and they can look at all the crime in the city or they can go all the way down to their particular zone of responsibility and all the way down to grids. They can search in that for all past crime. They can do overlays of sexual offenders, habitual offenders, juvenile offenders, they can look at the date, the time, the type of crime, the method of operation – any of that information they can search through that map.”

The SAFECOP system can also create instant notifications to other officers about a suspect’s appearance, whereabouts or whether or not they pose a danger. That’s information Assistant Police Chief Bennett said used to take a lot longer to get out to officers.

“That whole process to build a bulletin – of course you may lose the clothing in a day because if they change clothes within a half a day or a day then of course the bulletin now has limited value to it. So, even 24 hours could have hurt us in a case like that.”

The case he’s referring to is a robbery that happened earlier this week on Kennedy Boulevard in downtown Tampa. A man broke into an office building and stole cash, some video recording equipment and a set of master keys. Investigating officers were able to use footage from surveillance cameras to get a picture of the burglar. It wasn’t the highest quality, but it was enough for law enforcement to find the suspect only two hours later. Gerard Scalzo was the victim of the burglary.

“They sit there and still framed a picture and they sit there and they took a picture of it and they said ‘we’re going to put this on the SAFECOP system.’ I had gotten a call later on in the afternoon stating that they had found someone that matched the description and they had a set of keys on them and the officer did send me a photograph of the set of keys – of which I still have in my possession – and I did identify them and they said, ‘yes, we’ve got him.’”

The program also has real time blogging. Police officials compared it to social networking sites. Officers have several fields to fill out – like the type of crime and where it happened. But they also have a comment section where they can provide details about a suspect’s description and behavior. Corporal Rojka said each word is tagged and can be searched later for possible links to other incidents, but some words have smaller the text than others.

“That means that somebody has typed that in but there hasn’t been that much activity with that. So, we’re trying to teach our officers hit the big words that you want in your blog for people to see because the more that word is used, the bigger the word gets here. So, these are all links – more less. So, I can look at ‘strong.’ If I click on it it’s going to take me to every blog that has the word strong in it.”

Tampa Police have used a program called E-Sponder for the past several years. It allowed officers to communicate electronically over the internet and read online crime reports. The new system takes all of the old features and wraps them into one, streamlining the system. Police Chief Jane Castor said the agency used some of the $50 million given to the city by the feds for Republican convention security. During the week of the convention, Castor said some special forces like detectives and plain clothes officers were taken out of their roles.

“We did have a reduction of over 20% in our latent investigators, our detectives and our analysts. But by using this SAFECOP solution we were able to reduce crime by 26% in the city during the RNC.”

Castor hopes that as officers continue to pump more and more information into the system, it will help the agency further reduce crime. But Bailey Riley, an Occupy activist who went to the press conference, said she’s not comfortable with the new software.

"The software has been in use for about a month now. Tampa is the only agency to use this specific program, but the manufacturer, NC4, is expected to start selling it to other agencies soon."

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