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.