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Using the Internet to Disseminate Crime Information.

One part of a police department's role in the community is to provide criminal activity information to its citizens. Since the 1960s, the Tempe, Arizona, Police Department has reported its Part I crime(1) information to the FBI for national distribution. However, these numbers do not cover geographical and temporal factors or other types of crime and do not provide information about citizen calls for service (e.g., loud noise, suspicious activity).

Since 1989, the Crime Analysis Unit (CAU) of the Tempe Police Department has prepared and distributed reports on crime statistics, calls for police service, and a variety of other general information. The unit also has provided the public with maps that shade the city according to types of crime and calls for service. Anyone interested in this information could obtain it at the police station in person or request a CAU staff member to mail or fax it to them. Because the information was limited and the distribution method was not efficient, the CAU sought a way to provide this information in a more accessible, effective manner.

DEFINING THE PROBLEM

In initially analyzing this problem, CAU employees identified concerns with both the method of distribution and the quality and quantity of the reports. The hundreds of reports CAU generated wasted paper and consumed considerable amounts of the analysts' time. Individuals requesting the information also spent significant amounts of time getting to the police department and waiting to receive the information.

In addition to the problems in preparing and distributing the reports, the information itself was not timely. The CAU updated the reports monthly, but by the time the information reached the requestor, the unit may have generated a new report with more current information. In addition, the material lacked both quality and quantity. For example, CAU employees often copied or faxed color-coded maps, which frequently lost some detail and became illegible. Furthermore, much of this information did not provide adequate details on the location or the specific types of crime or calls for service that would assist the citizen. For example, a general city crime map may not help a new resident as much as a crime map that shades only residential burglaries. Therefore, resolving these problems became paramount for the CAU to save significant amounts of time and resources responding to these requests.

GOING ONLINE

The CAU decided that posting the information on the Internet due to its vast accessibility would alleviate most of these problems. Even those who do not own a computer or have Internet service usually can get access at their workplace, local libraries, or other nonprofit public resources. Although the Tempe Police Department had a Web page, the CAU decided to create one specific to crime analysis and distinguish it from general police information.

Posting crime analysis material on the Internet would provide timely information with nearly instantaneous updates and would conserve time and resources by reducing mailings and virtually eliminating printing and duplicating costs. It also would save the "customers" trips to the police station and provide them with higher-quality, more detailed reports.

Additionally, information presented on the Internet constitutes a vast improvement over paper copies or faxes because all of the reports appear in their original format and in color. The ease of making this information accessible on the Internet can increase the number of reports available to the public. Instead of the department providing copies of an entire 50-page report, the Internet allows users to view the report and print only the section they need. By improving the quality and quantity of the information, the CAU would expand its customer base, allowing more people to benefit from the data.

IDENTIFYING THE CUSTOMER

Because the Internet allowed the CAU to fix many of the methodological problems of providing information, the next step in the analysis process was to determine who wanted information and what type of information would help them. The CAU found numerous categories of users who regularly request information.

New Residents

The CAU found that individuals moving into Tempe request information most frequently. Whether these individuals are renting or buying homes, their requests deal mostly with the safety of a particular area of the city. Although the Tempe Police Department does not provide an opinion on areas of the city, they have developed a map that thematically shades the city by Part I crimes. This group of users also requests demographic information on Tempe, including thematic maps of calls for service; specific information on crimes and calls for service, such as burglary and disturbing the peace (e.g., loud noise/music/party) calls; and comparisons between apartment communities, mobile home communities, and schools.

Community maps of the area also help citizens moving into a new area. The CAU has included maps that allow users to zoom in and out and provide specific current statistical information (e.g., Part I crimes) on those areas.

Community Groups

Neighborhood Watch organizations or homeowners' associations typically are interested in the activity in their immediate neighborhood and how it compares to other areas of the city. The various specific maps satisfy these requests, as well as the patrol areas and census information that divide the city into slightly larger-than-neighborhood categories.

In addition to receiving the monthly statistics of crimes by geographic area, community groups obtain information about current crime trends and patterns in their areas. Knowledge of current incidents provides the groups with specific activity and trends to look for, while the police department gains extra sets of eyes and ears.

Community Managers

The Tempe Police Department's Crime-free Multihousing Program provides apartment and mobile home community managers with information about calls for service and crimes occurring on their properties. Thus, the apartment and mobile home community bulletins not only inform individuals about a prospective neighborhood, but they also tell the managers and owners how their community compares with others in the city. The healthy competition these bulletins produce among the managers encourages them to enroll in the program and possibly to improve their properties and rankings.

Because one-half of Tempe's residents live in rental properties, the CAU developed various online bulletins to compare apartment communities, per unit, by types of crime or calls for service. For each apartment community with 20 or more units, the bulletin lists the total number of calls, the number of units at the community, and the ratio of calls for service or crimes per unit.

The CAU compiles various apartment community bulletins both monthly and yearly. The monthly bulletins include either all of the Part I crimes or calls for service per unit, whereas the annual bulletins include all of the Part I crimes and selected types of crime and calls for service. The annual crime bulletins separate information into both violent and property crimes, and the additional calls-for-service bulletin includes a ranking of only disturbing the peace calls. Oftentimes, the ranking of a community does not provide enough information for individuals who are interested in the types of crime or calls for service in a community. For this reason, the CAU produces two additional annual reports specifically for apartment community information. The first lists the five most frequent types of calls for service per apartment community, and the second lists the totals for each Part I crime by apartment community.

Similar to the requests of residents in rental properties, realtors and business owners often request that the CAU conduct specific studies on their properties. Many of the maps and general information available online can answer the questions from this group.

Media

The media often looks for crime patterns or other public safety issues to include in feature stories or other special reports. The Web page can provide such community-oriented information as crime rates or crime patterns. For example, because of the many media requests for comparison information on recreational parks, the CAU conducted a crime study on area parks and created a bulletin for interested users.

Students and Crime Analysts

For individual students and fellow criminal justice professionals interested in crime analysis, information relating directly to that discipline is available. For example, definitions of terms and articles written about crime analysis are included on the CAU's Web page. Additionally, other city departments, area law enforcement agencies, and surrounding municipalities often solicit Tempe's CAU for historical crime and calls-for-service information. Many times, these requests provide general information needed for grant applications; therefore, historical crime records, as well as domestic violence data and calls-for-service information, prove beneficial to these customers.

Department Personnel

Although Tempe's CAU can provide members of the department with additional reports and individual requests, the Web page allows employees to access commonly requested information without having to directly contact the unit. Detectives may use historical information for long-term problem solving, while patrol and crime prevention officers use patrol area information in community meetings. The monthly crime and calls-for-service maps, in addition to the various bulletins, allow officers to pinpoint and track problem locations from month to month. Moreover, providing the CAU Web address at community meetings eliminates the need for preparing and copying the information for distribution.

EVALUATING THE WEB PAGE

The CAU measures its crime analysis Web page in two ways, quantitatively and qualitatively. Statistics show that from its creation in April 1997 to May 1998, the Web page had approximately 12,000 visitors and averaged about 852 hits a month, or 28 hits per day. Today, the crime analysis Web page has become one of the top 25 most visited pages in the city's more than 500 pages.

The qualitative assessment of the Web page includes both time saved and individual responses to the site. Because time saved remains difficult to measure accurately, the results are primarily anecdotal. To capture this information, the CAU's Web page provides a section for feedback from its users. To date, the CAU has received responses from many of its targeted users - citizens, students, professors, and law enforcement personnel - complimenting the site.

The assessment and development of the Web page remain an ongoing process. In order to make the page more effective, the CAU recently included property crime trends and patterns. In the future, the Web page will include a "frequently asked questions" section, as well as other types of crime trends and patterns. These new sections are based on analysis of other Web page hits, as well as feedback from users.

CONCLUSION

The Tempe Police Department's Crime Analysis Unit developed a Web page in response to the demand for timely information on calls for service and crime. Although the police department has its own Web page, the crime analysis page is maintained separately. Basically, the crime analysts' time and technical expertise remain the largest investment in developing and maintaining the Web page.

By developing and maintaining an informative Web page, specific units, as well as the entire department, can benefit by conserving both time and resources. Even police departments that already provide general police information via an Internet site can benefit from a Web page that provides information specific to crime analysis. More important, numerous categories of users would gain valuable, free information quickly and with minimal costs to the department.

User Feedback

The following quotes represent typical comments from users of Tempe's Crime Analysis Unit's Web page:

* "Hi, I'm teaching crime analysis at CA State University Fullerton. Love your Web page. Turned it into overhead for class presentation of crime analysis products. Keep up the good work."

* "Thank you for this Web site. My son is preparing to move to the area and this was very informative and gave us a head start on locating him a safe environment to begin his adult [life]."

* "I am planning to move to Tempe in June. I am a single mother who was worried about the move, but I feel so much better now. I printed out all of the statistical stuff that I thought I would need and now I can sit down with my Tempe map and find my daughter and I a safe place to live. Thanks to you (and everyone else involved) for setting up such a helpful site."

The Crime Analysis Unit's Web page address: http://www.tempe.gov/cau.

Endnotes

1 The FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program defines Part I crimes as murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, robbery, aggravated assault, arson, forcible rape, burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft.

Dr. Boba serves as a crime analyst with the Tempe, Arizona, Police Department.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Federal Bureau of Investigation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Boba, Rachel
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Geographic Code:1U8AZ
Date:Oct 1, 1999
Words:2066
Previous Article:NCIC 2000 and IAFIS Operational.
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