Can Software Curb City Violence?

A city experiencing a spate in gun crimes and searching for a suspect in a deadly shooting last week believes it has an answer to tracking criminals and plotting occurrences.

A records-management system, a computer software costing an estimated $350,000, may help by giving patrol and investigators on the scene a database of information at their fingertips.

“Most police investigations begin with bits and pieces of information,” said Lt. Brett Williams, who is acting commander of the patrol division, Tuesday after City Council's public safety committee meeting.

“Everything we do is data driven,” Williams said. “Once we have a system to collect the data, identify hot spots and allocate the resources to those areas without trying to guess when things are happening, it will help improve the public safety,” he said.

Mayor Gabriel J. Campana said the system by Spillman Technologies will track where drug houses are throughout the city.

Williams said whenever an officer gets a last or first name, or a street-name at scenes, he or she has no way to put that information into records.

“Our system is inefficient and ineffective,” Williams said, often “lagging four to six weeks.”

“We don't have a database when our patrol or officers gather information or get partial information at crime scenes,” Williams said.

The software also may assist investigators by narrowing down potential searches for suspects, victims of crime or witnesses.

For example, should a report of a suspect be released that he or she is 6 foot, 2 inches tall, that information will be put collected and shared with other officers. “Police can then develop parameters,” Williams said.

Today, police may get a street name or nickname or alias of a witness, suspect or victim of crime and the information is brought back by “word of mouth.”

Capt. Timothy Miller, commander of the criminal investigative division, said the system also should “increase the speed of investigations.”

“I am excited to be able to use this system, knowing the different things it can do, knowing the efficiency of this system,” Miller said. “It's nice to evolve.”

Councilman Randall J. Allison said the computer system package was not riddled with technical jargon but was easy to understand.

“It provides real-time data,” said Councilman N. Clifford “Skip” Smith, chairman of the committee.

It can map, log, put graphs on maps and help police know where crime trends are occurring, he said.

Councilman Don Noviello said he was surprised the city hadn't bought some form of the technology long ago.

“I think it will bring the city from the 20th century into the 21st century,” he said.

Financing has been budgeted in the capital projects budget, said William E. Nichols Jr., city finance director.

The system will be paid for through a series of installments. “We also have a $3 million line of credit available to us,” Nichols said.

The records-management system is to be discussed at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday by the city finance committee.