Hidalgo sheriff’s office changing way it maps crime

By KRISTIAN HERNANDEZ | STAFF WRITER

EDINBURG — The Hidalgo County Sherriff’s Office launched a full-scale approach toward a new concept of “intelligence-led policing” this month by plotting every call for service on a new interactive crime map.

As part of its new data-mining procedures, the Sheriff’s Office is changing how it analyzes crime in an effort to work more efficiently.

“Every single call that we get is plotted whether it’s an alarm call or a homicide,” department spokesman Cmdr. Joel Rivera said. “Essentially it’s ‘intelligence-led policing’ – that’s the initiative, to be more effective in fighting crime.”

Using Spillman data management software deputies and analysts began this month tracking GPS coordinates, evidence collected at the scene, and report narratives that are analyzed to find crime trends and connections in cases.

In the first week of its inception, more than 1,800 calls for service from Feb. 2 to Feb. 8 were plotted on a map. But it is still too early to reveal any viable results.

“This is a long-term endeavor and once it is up and running we will get a much clearer picture of the way we are using our resources,” Rivera said. “We want to hit these criminals where it hurts and not place deputies where there is no crime.”

This new tool, originally purchased under former Sheriff Lupe Treviño’s administration, will not add to the sheriff’s $50 million budget this year since analysts already working for them will oversee the maintenance and data entry of the software. More than 800 employees will eventually receive training on the new system, Rivera said.

To test the software, the sheriff’s Criminal Investigations Division began using it in June to identify crime clusters and to come up with new ways to capture data. They looked at vehicle thefts, burglaries, and home invasions across the county. The initial findings led authorities to increase patrols in certain neighborhoods and slash response times, which helped investigators close some cases faster than before.

“We already started homing in on the way we collect and utilize this data, and we like what we are seeing,” Rivera said. “We’ve seen a substantial increase of in-progress calls where we’ve managed to take somebody into custody during the commission of a crime.”

The Sheriff’s Office is the first law enforcement agency in the county to use this software. In the future they plan to add new modules to its software package that allows them to track sex offenders or pawn shop activity to locate stolen property.

“This software is capable of capturing a bunch of data, but in the past administration it wasn’t required and if we use it correctly we can draw statistics and analytics from it that we have not been able to see before,” Rivera said. “Over time, we will develop our database and train our people to begin to utilize it, but this takes time. It could take years.”

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