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Computer support for community-oriented policing.

Community-oriented policing (COP) is an integral part of the Alexandria, Virginia, Police Department's daily operations. As part of the COP approach, personnel from the department are assigned to each of the city's civic associations to keep citizens apprised of citywide crime statistics, as well as the crime figures for each community within the city.

The community liaison officers also listen to citizen concerns and act as their advocates in local public safety-related matters. These liaison officers--drawn from all ranks within the department--forward monthly written reports to the chief that summarize the concerns of their respective communities and highlight the actions taken or recommended by the officers.

Until recently, however, liaison officers found that their efforts to obtain timely, neighborhood-specific crime and incident statistics were frustrated by the complexity of the department' s computerized records management system. Therefore, after a careful review of the mainframe records management database, department managers decided to develop a separate personal computer (PC) database application that used periodic downloads from the main records manager as its data source.

Department managers christened the new system Quick Query (QQ).(1) The primary purpose of this system is to improve information-sharing with community associations by supplying timely statistics and detailed information concerning reported incidents to liaison and patrol officers, investigators, supervisors, and commanders.

DESIGNING THE SYSTEM

In designing the Quick Query system, planners understood the importance of maintaining user control over timeframes covered by the queries, types of incidents culled from the system, and the geographic limits of the searches. Because this program would be the first contact with a PC for many officers, it was also important that the user interface be simple, intuitive, and powerful. Accordingly, the program was designed to be fully menu-driven. In fact, after typing in their personal serial numbers, users can perform all other functions using only six keys (four cursor keys, the escape key, and the enter key.)

The system is also largely data-driven--meaning that the program receives much of its "run-time" information from the data supplied to it via the department's mainframe database. For example, when QQ prompts the user for a date range, the system checks the user supplied dates against the range of dates available in the current database. If the user selects a timeframe outside the acceptable range, the program prompts the operator for a valid date. MAIN MENUS

Quick Query provides users with a wide range of information. The main menu offers six options: Beats, geosearch, places, streets, utility, and codes.

Beats

The beats submenu has become a favorite of uniformed patrol personnel. For the first time, patrol officers can obtain summaries or more detailed information concerning all reported incidents for a particular beat. For this search, officers maintain the ability to select desired date and time ranges. The officers may also target specific types of incidents, such as burglaries or larcenies.

The advantages of placing this type of information in the hands of patrol officers can be profound. In effect. this program allows every patrol officer to be a crime analyst. Officers possess intimate knowledge of the people, streets, and alleyways of their assigned beats. In short, the Quick Query system provides patrol officers with the necessary means to not only record but also to analyze crime on their beats.

Geosearch

The department's records program geographically encodes (geocodes) all incidents by subcensus tract (a subdivision of the U.S. Census Tract Boundary) based on address. These geocodes, plus the four-digit Uniform Crime Report (UCR) code and the report date, make up the key elements necessary to compute, sort, and track the criminal activity in any community.

Users can opt to search by census (or subcensus) tract, which provides a scrolled listing of all valid geographic tracts available. A green pop-up calendar prompts users for the starting date. The system then defaults to the earliest date in the database. By using the cursor keys, operators choose the appropriate date.

After users select a valid starting date, a red calendar appears on the screen with the cursor positioned on the latest possible date in the database. Users select the appropriate ending date and then choose the types of incidents to be included as part of a particular query. The choices include:

* All Part I crimes

* Homicide

* Rape

* Robbery

* Aggravated assault

* Burglary

* Larceny

* Automobile theft

* All reported incidents.

Within each of these options, users are provided with additional fields by which to limit their search. For example, selecting Part I crimes yields the number of Part I offenses by category and the total number of offenses occurring during the time and place specified by the user.

Two "hot" function key options are displayed at the bottom of this screen: Show detail and print summary. The first key option provides a scrollable window containing all the records meeting the user's selection criteria. While the detailed records are displayed, the user has an option to print. By selecting this option, users can obtain a hard-copy of the selected detailed records. The report contains the following fields: Incident number, report date, UCR code, disposition code, reporting officer's serial number, time of incident, and incident location.

Places

The places submenu is the cornerstone of the system's community policing aspects. Community liaison officers define their assigned communities in terms of subcensus tracts, or if necessary, by individual streets.

When developing the Quick Query system, developers encoded these descriptions aS an integral part of the program. This allows liaison officers to select their respective civic organizations' names from a scrolled list. They may then choose a desired date range from an onscreen calendar, and in less than 60 seconds, receive a comprehensive hard copy summary of all reported incidents occurring within an association's geographic boundaries.

Streets

The streets submenu allows users to enter a street address from a range of addresses and obtain either a scrolled listing or a hard copy of all incidents for selected addresses. This is a particularly useful feature when documenting a specific "hot spot" of criminal activity.

Utility

The primary use of the utility submenu is to update the current PC database from the mainframe records management incident file. To make the system up to date and as easy to use as possible, planners are currently working to fully automate the data transfer process.

Codes

The codes submenu provides users with access to two "look up" tables. These tables contain listings of the UCR codes, as well as department disposition codes, both of which can be viewed onscreen or printed. These tables prove especially helpful to officers, few of whom are familiar with specific UCR or disposition code numbers.

CONCLUSION

Armed with the up-to-date information provided by the Quick Query system, patrol and liaison officers are better prepared to address the crime problems in their respective areas. Combining this data resource with the ideals of community-oriented policing enables the Alexandria Police Department to provide enhanced public safety services to all of its citizens.

Endnote

Law enforcement agencies interested in developing a system similar to the one in Alexandria may forward inquiries on agency letterhead to the Alexandria Police Department, 2003 Mill Road, Alexandria, VA 22314.

Mr. Campbell is a crime analyst with the Alexandria, Virginia, Police Department.
COPYRIGHT 1994 Federal Bureau of Investigation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Campbell, J.J.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Feb 1, 1994
Words:1197
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