Established in 1827 and currently employing more than 3,500 officers along with several hundred civilian staff, the Memphis Police Department (MPD) is tasked with preserving the public safety of the city of Memphis, Tenn. The department's nine precincts currently serve a combined community of more than 683,000 people and handle nearly 1 million calls each year.
Data sharing and making effective use of information are two of the main challenges of modern police work. When the Memphis Police Department began looking for ways to improve its fight against violent crime, it recognized that simply deploying additional police officers was not the answer. Instead, the department began looking for a more elegant and cost-effective solution. With a wealth of statistical information already at its disposal, the MPD needed a way to sift through the available data and discover insights that could guide the deployment of its large force of uniformed officers.
Vendor of Choice: IBM
Founded in 1911, IBM provides hardware, software, consulting, and other services for a wide variety of technology and business needs. In 2009, the company acquired SPSS, Inc., makers of the eponymous statistical software package, and incorporated SPSS software into its information management portfolio. Today, IBM SPSS is in use in numerous universities, 12 of the leading global pharmaceutical companies, and all 50 U.S. state governments.
The Problem In-Depth
In 2005, police director Larry Godwin of the MPD became concerned about the city of Memphis, which was experiencing an increase in violent criminal activity and, at the time, ranked among the top 10 in the country in several categories of crime. Although the nation as a whole was experiencing an increase in violent crime during the same period, it was particularly pronounced in the city of Memphis. Something had to be done.
Although a typical response might be to hire and deploy more officers, such a process would be expensive and time-consuming. Instead, it was decided that the best solution was one that took advantage of the resources already at the disposal of the department, in particular, the broad range of information available to its officers and analysts.
On police procedural dramas such as CSI and Law & Order, a whole universe of information seems to be just a click away for the shows' heroic investigators. While it's true that modern law enforcement agencies have a great deal of information to work with, the sheer amount of information presents its own problems, and the process of turning that data into good police work and effective decision making can be a lot more difficult than it looks on TV.
The situation was no different for the MPD. Poring over the available crime statistics was a slow and labor-intensive process, to say nothing of incorporating other data sources such as census information. What the department needed was a system that would allow its analysts to quickly analyze new information and decide how best to respond to criminal activity, while also allowing it to detect ongoing trends and uncover emerging ones quickly enough to make a difference.
According to John F. Williams, crime analysis unit manager for the MPD, the solution needed to achieve two specific goals. "Number one: Reduce the crime rate within the Memphis area," he says. "And number two: [Pinpoint] or show us where crimes were occurring to increase arrests and stabilize the community."
To put together such a system, the department partnered with Richard Janikowski of the University of Memphis's Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. It was through Janikowski's work with the university that the MPD ultimately began using IBM SPSS to analyze crime data for the new initiative.
SPSS is a comprehensive mathematical and statistical package that was originally developed at University of Chicago in 1968. Acquired by IBM in 2009, the package comprises several individual products and solutions, including IBM SPSS Data Collection, IBM SPSS Statistics, IBM SPSS Modeler, and IBM SPSS Deployment. Taken as a whole, the package gives organizations the ability to collect, analyze, and react to almost any type of data. The package has seen widespread use in many industries and applications, including fraud investigation, healthcare, government planning, and education.
The statistical package also has a history of involvement with police work. According to Bill Haffey, technical director for the public sector at IBM, the company has worked with police departments of various sizes to establish crime analysis programs similar to what the MPD was looking for. These programs can draw data from a variety of sources, including raw crime data, city event schedules, and holiday schedules, as well as more unusual sources of data such as weather patterns.
The key to taking advantage of such a wide array of data sources is finding the connections between them. According to Haffey, IBM SPSS excels at this task by being data-driven rather than user-guided."In the discovery algorithms, the data-driven algorithms, you simply introduce a number of various factors that you suspect might have some effect on the outcomes," says Haffey. "The algorithms themselves will sort out the various relationships, the various causes and effects that might be important."
This emphasis on data-driven analysis can have some surprising results. In Richmond, Va., one of IBM's previous forays into crime analysis, data about the phases of the moon, was added into the predictive model. "It was almost a joke, initially," says Haffey. "It turned out that the phases of the moon were a critical portion of the model."
Another key feature of the package is the ability to create "business rules"-sets of criteria that trigger specific behaviors in the package, such as indicating to a user the need for further analysis. He uses the example of insurance claim investigation to illustrate their use.
"In the case of looking at insurance claims, obviously there are some very specific rules that a claims investigator would want to follow," says Haffey. "One example of a very simple business rule that you'd want to incorporate is if a car was totaled and yet there were no passenger injuries reported. ... [That] would be one hard and fast rule that this particular claim should be investigated."
Lastly, and most importantly, IBM SPSS can identify ongoing trends and use historical data and other information to build statistical models that can predict future activity. That sort of capability would be invaluable to the system the MPD was looking to create.
At the end of 2005, the decision was made to go ahead and provide the University of Memphis with crime data for the city, which it could then analyze with IBM SPSS Statistics. Then in 2006, an active pilot program called Blue CRUSH (Crime Reduction Utilizing Statistical History) was launched in one of the department's precincts, based on the university's work.
According to Williams, Blue CRUSH quickly demonstrated its efficiency. "We saw two things occur," he says. "We saw the increase in good quality arrests for those offenders who were using firearms to commit violent felonies. And also we saw a decrease in the overall crime in that area."
Based on the success of the pilot program, several additional programs were launched, and in 2008 the MPD finished training its staff of 12 analysts in the use of IBM SPSS Statistics and took over the operation of the program from the university. Blue CRUSH and IBM SPSS Statistics are now vital parts of the MPD's Real Time Crime Center, which generates both statistical and geographic data that helps the department track and combat crime more effectively.
Williams provides a hypothetical example of the sort of trends Blue CRUSH can identify. "We've got three robberies of individuals that are occurring in a particular area between 12 a.m. and 2 a.m. That's pretty good stuff for a police officer. So we're able, through that, to place those resources and have the officers in the areas where they're occurring," he says.
IBM SPSS Statistics also helps Blue CRUSH generate information packages that can be distributed throughout the department, simplifying communication demands and the need to distribute critical data. But most importantly, the MPD credits the initiative with a concrete impact on the amount of crime, which has dropped nearly 30% since 2006.
"We found that the use of SPSS in our Blue CRUSH initiative has been more successful," says Williams, "than any other saturation or zero tolerance policy in the history of the Memphis Police Department."