App of the Month: Toronto Police Service Crime App

January 2, 2019 Mingsze Ho

Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone got a nice rest over the holiday and you’re pumped to read about the very first App of the Month for 2019! For January, we start off with an application that emphasizes big data. What does it mean to have a massive amount of data? What application can display and leverage the volume of data?

As part of the modernization of the Service outlined in the Action Plan “The Way Forward”, the Toronto Police Service developed a public safety data portal intended to improve the understanding of policing, increase transparency and enhance confidence in the Service through the creation and use of Open Data for public safety in the City of Toronto.

The Service developed the Toronto Police Service Crime App (Year End) to publish police open data and provide members of the public with a centralized platform to easily access useful and timely crime data. And that is our January App of the Month!

The app provides a wide range of crime information including homicide, shootings and major crime indicators (MCI). The app provides several functionalities to interact with the data including widgets that allow users to turn layers on and off, filter data by date range or neighbourhood and even query data based on the user’s criteria using the Location Analysis widget.

The Crime App was configured using Web AppBuilder for ArcGIS. The Web AppBuilder is easy to configure and there are a variety of themes to choose from. It has powerful widgets for you to configure and add to your app. The widgets—in my opinion—really enhance the functionality of an application as demonstrated in the Toronto Police Service Crime App.

With a large dataset, the group behind this crime app, the Business Intelligence and Analytics Unit, leveraged the use of the widget query. Users can grab a set of crime data based on the dates, type and in which neighbourhood it occurred. After having the dataset queried to the way you want, you can print the map using the map widget. 

Above is the query panel where users can find a specific set of crime data based on the parameters they fill out.

One of the widgets I find interesting is the homicide time-lapse. This animated feature helps visualize homicide hot spots over time from 2004 to 2017. Using the layer widget, users can turn this layer on and enable the Time-Lapse widget for the visualization to play. This feature is powered by enabling Time settings on the service layer to visualize how data changes over time on the map.

Above is a time-lapse of heat maps of homicides between 2004-2017.

The Toronto Police Service used Esri’s ArcGIS Online and Web AppBuilder to develop the Crime App and publish crime data for public use. Debbie Verduga, a crime analyst in the business intelligence and analytics unit, says their workflow starts with preparing and extracting the crime data from the police databases. Locations are off-set to a near intersection node in order to provide users with a location of crimes while protecting the identity and privacy of the persons involved in the event.

The dataset is then published to ArcGIS Online as Open Data which can be downloaded in a variety of different file formats and it is also available in the Crime App so users can interact with the data. The data is updated every year. However, the Toronto Police Service also developed a mirror-image of the Crime App to provide users with current year-to-date Crime information. You can check out the other Crime App (Year to Date) to view current crime statistics, updated on a daily basis.

The TPS Crime App is used by a wide range of users including media outlets, researchers, university professors and students along with many resident concerned about public safety in their neighbourhood. Debbie says, “Even though they are all using the Crime App and the data for different purposes, this app provides a centralized resource for timely crime information in a self-serve format which reduces the amount of time our staff spends responding to frequent requests for crime data.”

Now, the TPS can share all the information through an app, which has made this tool the most up-to-date and reliable source for crime statistics in Toronto. No wonder Debbie and her team have been receiving positive feedback from their users. And users are the key.

The biggest lesson that Debbie says she and her team learned in this process was that a design thinking approach to building the web app was critical.  For it to be effective, the app had to include the very different types of functionality that users wanted to see in the app. Debbie and her team listened, and it proved a very successful formula.

There are plans to include more crime data and functionality with the app. With the ongoing improvement and updates to Web AppBuilder, the TPS hopes to provide even more valuable and timely police information to members of the public and help improve public safety in the City of Toronto.

About the Author

Mingsze Ho

Mingsze Ho is a GIS Analyst for Esri Canada. Fascinated with displaying data in a spatial way, she focuses on generating story maps and other applications using Esri technology. She discovered her passion for maps when she started colouring and drawing maps in elementary school, and she was determined to become a cartographer. Mingsze loves how a map can illustrate the ways that certain features or phenomena affect human lives. While obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies, she realized the world had moved on to digital maps. She was heartbroken initially, until she discovered the power of GIS and how it can be used to leverage both art and data to create beautiful, interactive maps. In her free time, Mingsze continues to draw maps. She just really likes maps.

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