August 1, 2007 Engineers at the University of Virginia have developed a new program, called web-cat, that allows police to easily access crime data online -- and spot trends that show what types of crimes happen most often, and where. Users can look for crime action by typing in specific dates, choosing types of crimes, choose locations, or find out what weapons are used most. The system then produces graphs, reports, and maps of high crime areas.
Fighting crime is a tough job in any city. But now, police have help to track crime, and spot high crime areas faster. After an arrest, police work isn't done. Cops spend hours storing crime information, but the current storage system is outdated.
"The problem has been that they can't access it very easily," said Jamie Conklin, who is a systems engineer at the University of Virginia.
Now, a new program, called web-cat, allows police to easily access crime data online -- and spot trends that show what types of crimes happen most often, and where. "It is a tool that law enforcement agents can use to study the crime in their area," said Conklin.
Developed by systems engineers, users can look for crime action by typing in specific dates, choosing types of crimes, choose locations, or find out what weapons are used most. The system then produces graphs, reports, and maps of high crime areas.
"We found that a lot of our residential break-ins were occurring Mondays and Wednesdays -- then we were able to pass that on to the patrol officers," said Joe Mclaughlin, chief deputy at the New Kent County Sheriffs Office "So, this has been shown to help police officers because if they can get an idea of what's going on, they can make better predictions as to where crimes are likely to happen in the future," Conklin said.
Spotting crimes earlier can help deploy more officers sooner -- so you can feel safer.
"We can also provide that to our neighborhood watch, that we're having problems in their areas, so they can become our eyes and ears when we can't be there to enforce," said Mclaughlin.
The crime-fighting tool is also being upgraded to predict locations of future crimes. The information from the online tool can also be shared across state and county lines.
BACKGROUND: Scientists in the University of Virginia's Department of Systems and Information Engineering have developed a novel tool for crime prevention called the Web-based Crime Analysis Toolkit (WebCAT). Its purpose is to help analyze crime statistics and provide a way for law enforcement agencies to share data, perhaps even helping them track criminals that cross state lines. This enables law enforcement to more effectively deploy their resources, making it very appealing to cash-strapped police departments. DataPro Systems recently licensed the WebCAT software and made it available to all Virginia law enforcement agencies.
THE PROBLEM: Each jurisdiction in Virginia reports crime data to the state police on a monthly basis. That information is aggregated and reported in turn to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This is a one-way flow of information that doesn't allow local law enforcement agencies to share data or to conduct regional data analysis. Tracking crime, especially across county lines, can be difficult. Agencies can purchase their own crime analysis software, but it is typically expensive and difficult to use. Furthermore, such software doesn't allow for data sharing, which is particularly useful if crime is occurring on the edge of a jurisdiction.
ABOUT WEBCAT: The UVA scientists set out to create a product that not only addressed the data analysis and sharing issues, but was also user friendly. WebCAT is a web-based format simple enough that any web-savvy user could figure out how to use it in about 30 minutes. Users log in to WebCAT and run queries, including crime characteristics such as location or use of a weapon. The system then generates graphs, reports, and maps of crime data based on those queries. WebCAT can also detect trends such as when and where particular crimes are more likely to occur. For instance, a police officer can go into the program and look at trends in his particular beat.
INTERNET ABCS: To access a Website like WebCAT, you type the URL into your browser software, the browser connects to the Web server to request the page, then receives and uploads the data. This is possible because every computer on the Internet is connected to every other computer on the Internet. Millions of computers are linked together on a computer network that allows all of them to communicate with each other. Each computer links independently to an Internet Server Provider (ISP), via a dial-up phone line modem, DSL, or cable modem. (Businesses or universities usually connect directly to its own local area network.) Those ISPs connect to larger ISPs, and the largest of those maintain fiber optic 'backbones' for an entire nation or region. Backbones around the world, in turn, are connected through fiber optic lines, undersea cables, or satellite links.