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More law-enforcement agencies use web-based crime-mapping system July 12, 2009

Posted by Bahadir Sahin in English, Haber (News).
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After inadvertently letting a burglar into his Arlington, Va., apartment building, Greg Whisenant decided to take action.

He founded a web-based crime-mapping service, which would have allowed police to flag his block as having been burglarized and alert others in the area.

More than 550 law enforcement agencies across the country including Iowa’s Urbandale Police Department use the Utah-based CrimeReports, a number that’s rapidly increasing.

Aimed at providing “timely and geographically relevant” data, community members can access the maps for free at the CrimeReports site and receive e-mail notifications when new information is added, something that’s usually done every 24 hours.

“If it happens on my street, you’ve got my attention,” said Whisenant, who is now the CEO of CrimeReports.com. “I can do specific things to protect myself, my family, and my property if something happens.”

Iowa City and UI police do not use CrimeReports or any other crime-mapping service. Instead, because of budget constraints, Iowa City police Chief Sam Hargadine said, his department uses a “labor-intensive” in-house mapping process for situations that warrant it.

One example is the “serial groper,” who struck more than 30 times in 2006 and 2007. Iowa City police mapped the locations where the man — or men — struck, and officials released the information to the media.

UI police said a crime-mapping service is a possibility, but it is at least one year away.

“I can really see a use for something like that — if it works — in law enforcement because [crime] is difficult to try to map, especially when you’re talking about numerous jurisdictions,” said Charles Green, the assistant vice president for the UI police.

If a law-enforcement agency does decide to pay for the CrimeReports service, it downloads an application and configures it over the phone.

The application enables CrimeReports to securely query the department’s database, accessing only what information the department allows. That usually includes date, time, location, and event type.

The program uses Google Maps to plot crimes, though no specific addresses are listed because of privacy issues.

The Urbandale police — the only department in Iowa that uses the service — have been a client of CrimeReports since February, and authorities lauded the benefits of crime-mapping.

“[Community members] can become that second set of eyes for us when they do see that there is a problem in their neighborhood,” Urbandale Police Chief Ross McCarty said. “The more we use it, the more we like it.”

His department originally budgeted $12,000 for a crime-mapping service, he said. The $1,200 per year CrimeReports price tag — coupled with no additional labor costs — was a “cost-effective” surprise.

Some communities have even created their own mapping software. With the help of Eastern Michigan University students, the Institute for Geospatial Research did just that, mapping crimes both on campus and in the Ypsilanti community, though it cost $12,000 to develop and $3,000 per year to host.

Ultimately, no matter which crime-mapping service law-enforcement agencies decide to use, Whisenant believes providing communities with timely, geographically relevant crime data is important.

“I really feel that it should be an expectation for all in our country,” he said. “If a crime happens in their community, they should know about it within 24 hours.”

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