by Kim S. Nash

How a Homegrown Mobile System Helps Police Bust Gang Members

Dec 21, 20123 mins
Data ManagementData WarehousingMobile

A local police force built a mobile-data system to quickly access the records officers need to make arrests.

To curb gang activity in California, local courts and law enforcement created a special injunctions process that permits the arrest of known gang members for small infractions–in hopes of preventing more violent crimes. But to be really effective, arresting officers needed timely information to help them make good decisions and follow proper procedures.

The answer was a mobile-data system that puts “information at an officer’s fingertips to make an arrest,” says Ed Ivora, an administrative analyst and head of technology at the Long Beach Police Department.

A gang injunction is a court order making it illegal for known gang members to loiter together, possess spray paint or commit other small crimes in a pre-defined “safety zone.” If a police officer sees such behavior, he can make an arrest. But first, the officer must verify that the person has been served the court papers.

Before, an officer on patrol would call the records department or a gang specialist on the force to look up the paperwork. The process could take several minutes or sometimes more than an hour if no one was available immediately. By that time, the gang member was likely to have moved on.

Ivora and his staff work closely with officers, including spending time with them in patrol cars, to understand how they work and what kind of technology would help them do their jobs. When an officer came to the IT group to talk about remote access to the gang records at headquarters, Ivora jumped on the idea.

Using existing software and tools, the IT group created a system that ties together images, data and near real-time reporting. Once gang injunction paperwork is processed, a document proving a gang member was properly served the court papers is scanned and stored in a content-management system from Laserfiche. Using Crystal Reports from SAP, the IT group wrote an automated report to run every hour to pick up the latest scans. The system links those documents, plus maps of safety zones, to arrest records and other data stored in the police department’s Tiburon records-management system.

Now an officer can access these images and files from a Panasonic Toughbook laptop that’s mounted in the squad car and connected to an encrypted VPN. Ivora is exploring whether to add photos of gang members’ tattoos and other distinguishing marks to the system to help verify identities.

Paul DeBeasi, an analyst at Gartner, likes Ivora’s approach, saying more IT leaders should learn about the jobs people must do before rushing into development. “Rather than thinking about mobility as building an app, step back and look at mobility as a business problem.”

Like any organization looking for returns on technology projects, the Long Beach Police Department monitors specific metrics. Most important, Ivora says, is the number of arrests. In 2009, before the system went in, officers made 25 gang-injunction arrests. In 2010, the year the system was installed, there were 140. In 2011, 181. Long Beach was expected to finish 2012 with an estimated 250 gang-injunction arrests. The technology made the policy effective, he says.

Officers are also able to use the system to flag those gang members who haven’t been served with court papers and sometimes serve them on the spot, Ivora says. “It’s been huge.”

Kim Nash is a senior editor for CIO Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @knash99.

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