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Powerful GIS Solutions for Law Enforcement – Part 1

We invited John Beck, Director Law Enforcement Solutions, Esri Inc., to have a conversation with us about some of the benefits of using GIS in law enforcement.  John gained invaluable experience implementing data-driven crime and intelligence strategies as a police officer and crime analyst in Nevada before joining Esri, where he guides the development of GIS solutions for police agencies around the world.

What are some of the responsibilities of a crime analyst or data analyst in law enforcement?

If you’re a data analyst in a police department, your role is to provide as wide, clear, and current a picture as possible. Your work supports key business units and stakeholders across the agency. This includes working with chief executives and command staff, investigators, and officers in the field, as well as sharing information with other agencies and community stakeholders. You are key to helping your agency make smarter, more informed policy decisions and to better engage with the public. Your work also helps to improve call responses times, solve more crimes faster, and boost other key performance indicators (KPIs) through analysis, visualization, and sharing of data and statistics.

It sounds like you’re touching a lot of areas

Absolutely! Requests might range from mapping illegal dumping locations in the city; a map covering a series of potentially related burglaries; maps to support a search and rescue operation; creating a plan for a special event, and so on. If you’re lucky, the requesting party might at least have a spreadsheet of locations that they want mapped. But usually, it’s up to you to find that data and deliver the final information product ASAP.

Can you run us through a typical request that analysts may have to deal with?

A typical request might require you to extract the relevant data from your records management system (RMS), and clean and geocode it in preparation for analysis. After the data is prepped, you then perform the analysis. This often involves trial and error as you determine the most appropriate analysis for the job. Once the analysis is complete you are ready to share your work. Often this means exporting a screenshot to a Word document or PDF that is emailed or printed and hand delivered to the end user.

However, there are some common problems with this process:

  • Analysts don’t have the right tools to support ad-hoc information requests.
  • Completed information products are shared using hard-copy (or emailed pdf) maps.
  • These maps are not secure, lack interactivity, and can quickly become out-of-date.

What would you say are the biggest challenges facing analysts in law enforcement?

Police departments have huge data needs, but there is often the same chokepoint -- most of their data is siloed in disparate systems with no integration. This means manual data extracts from legacy systems. This can cause long delays and frustration among officers and senior management who often have an exigent need for answers. Plus, most analysts are not trained database administrators, so they often need help making these connections between systems.

Police data is often siloed in different systems. These silos can lead to delays as data has to be manually extracted

How does GIS help solve some of these issues?

GIS has evolved over the years, and integrates with existing agency databases, legacy systems, intel, cameras and sensors. ArcGIS solutions connect these disparate systems, databases and data feeds through location, which helps police departments overcome multiple challenges.  

ArcGIS Pro is the foundation of the ArcGIS system. This desktop application includes tools and workflows to identify spatial patterns, trends, and relationships in the data.

ArcGIS Pro, when combined with ArcGIS Enterprise promotes Web GIS, which is a live, interactive mapping system for the entire agency. So instead of hard-copy maps, analysts can now share the most up-to-date information to web and mobile apps. Non-GIS users can interact with this data and organizations can secure this data by controlling who has access to what types of data through their GIS portal. 

ArcGIS system of mapping for law enforcement

Location is critical for law enforcement and can be used to integrate with agency databases, RMS, CAD, traffic cameras, intel, sensors, and enables real-time mapping capabilities

Depending on your agency’s needs, we have two free solutions available that are designed to simplify ArcGIS Pro workflows, enabling analysts to turn data into actionable intelligence, while improving information request processing times: 

  • Crime Analysis:  Enables the management, visualization, analysis and sharing of crime and incident data.  
  • Intelligence Analysis: Supports more advanced intelligence workflows such as threat assessments, link analysis, and investigative support. 

How do you extend GIS to officers in the field?

GIS can be extended to officers in the field through a variety of mobile apps that meet specific challenges. Esri mobile apps can be used to collect information in the field, help officers see events and locations around them, and can be used to monitor officer locations in real-time so nearby officers can be assigned efficiently.

Mobile apps are fully integrated with the rest of the Esri platform and can be paired together or with real-time dashboards for complete situational awareness. Some mobile solutions we recommend to law enforcement are:

ArcGIS Field Maps is an all-in-one app that is commonly used by agencies to help officers collect/edit data and see incidents, assets, and offenders around them. Field Maps can help your agency push critical intelligence to officers in the field and allows them to collect and share location-based field intelligence including observations and photos – all in real-time.

ArcGIS Survey123 is a form-driven mobile app that enables your agency to create standardized forms that officers and other personnel can use to create, share, and analyze data. Surveys can be configured to meet multiple workflows and are commonly used in any situation where officers need to ask a standard set of questions such as field interviews.

How is location used to share information throughout the organization?   

ArcGIS Dashboards are an excellent way to share information and meet multiple organizational needs. Strategic dashboards are typically used by command staff provide a snapshot of current trends, ongoing crime reductions strategies, and other key performance indicators (KPIs). Widgets can be added to compare reporting periods or look at incidents by crime type, time of day, day of week, or any other metric that is important to your agency.   

Car break-in reduction strategy dashboard  

Operational dashboards give a real-time view of events such as calls for service, location of personnel, or device locations and can integrate with most sensor data, including body-worn cameras, license plate readers (LPR), automated vehicle location (AVL), CCTV, drones, or any other device that is collecting location information. Live data feeds can be integrated into real-time crime centres (RTCC’s) or in mobile command posts.

police department crime feed dashboard

Law enforcement in today’s world has significant challenges corralling and leveraging the massive amount of data they collect on a daily basis, and they increasingly depend on technology to provide insight and intelligence to make better, more informed decisions.  Through our core technology offerings, Esri Canada enables law enforcement to overcome these challenges with  tools to perform analysis, manage field operations more effectively, make critical informed decisions, and engage their communities.

For more information, please explore our industry webpage: and don’t forget to check out the second part of our conversation with John Beck.

About the Author

David Hamilton is the Public Safety Industry Manager for Esri Canada. His efforts are focused on advising customers how to use GIS technology to improve all areas of public safety, specifically (NG)9-1-1, law enforcement, fire services, emergency medical services, emergency management, and search and rescue. Prior to joining Esri Canada in 2010, David managed the GIS for E-Comm 9-1-1 in Vancouver, and worked for the RCMP at the Integrated Security Unit for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games where he managed their Common Operating Picture. Being active has been a major part of David’s personal life; soccer, track & field, skiing, cycling, hiking and now kayaking are all among his favourite activities.

Profile Photo of David Hamilton