Larry A. Godwin

Sep 30 2012

How Tennessee Fights Crime from the Data Center

The city of Memphis and state of Tennessee apply predictive analytics and data sharing to make better use of resources.

Nationwide, law enforcement budgets are being slashed. Public safety resources must be used wisely in order to address criminal activity. Data-driven policing allows agencies to deploy officers where they are needed most, thus taking a proactive approach in the reduction of crime.

As the newly appointed director of police for the city of Memphis, Tenn., in 2004, I understood that we needed a plan to address the rising crime rate and citizen concerns. After meeting with Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, U.S. Attorney Terry Harris, University of Memphis Professor Richard Janikowski and members of the Organized Crime Unit, my staff assembled a crime-fighting plan. Professor Janikowski offered to break down our crime data. This enabled us to look at crime in a completely different way and pinpoint problem areas.

Based on this data analysis, Memphis piloted its Blue Crush plan and saw an immediate reduction in crime. The next step was to develop a real-time crime center (RTCC), which opened in 2008. Knowing that the past is a strong indicator of the future, the team tapped IBM SPSS predictive analytical software to identify historical crime patterns and place officers in high-risk areas.

Running the Numbers

By utilizing data-driven technology and security cameras monitored at the RTCC, the police department was able to strategically address criminal activity citywide. The Blue Crush approach deployed officers to the right place, at the right time and on the right day, all based on predictive analysis of crime patterns. Robberies, burglaries and assaults began to drop, and overall crime began to fall dramatically. We learned that everything crime-related could be measured and addressed with predictive analytic software.

It was this technology — analytical applications, data warehousing and the use of video — that changed the operational activities and processes of the Memphis Police Department. The data allowed us to strategically deploy our deep undercover unit, the Criminal Apprehension Team and Aggravated Assault Unit, to address specific criminal activities. This reduced crime by more than 34 percent from 2006 to 2011. We also added automated license plate recognition technology for proactive patrolling. The ALPR systems can read a license plate in less than a second and run the number against eight databases.

Stating a Case for Sharing

After 38 years with the Memphis Police Department, I retired and took on a new role as deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security. Bill Gibbons, now commissioner of the Tennessee DSHS, and I immediately began to assess and restructure the agency. Under his leadership, we have made public safety the top priority. Despite the challenges, we're confident we can make significant changes at the state level.

The department includes three divisions — Tennessee Highway Patrol, Homeland Security and Driver Services. Collaborating and sharing data with other law enforcement agencies through the deployment of Tennessee's Integrated Traffic Analysis Network (TITAN), we can realize our goal of employing more technology to link public safety agencies across the state. TITAN is a suite of tools for the electronic collection, submission and management of crash data in Tennessee. This data will enable us to efficiently deploy state troopers.

Law enforcement leaders must be innovative and continue to think outside the box. It is our responsibility as managers to provide our troopers, Homeland Security personnel, Driver Services staff and external officers with the tools they need to proactively address criminal activity and promote public safety.


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