Essay: Law Enforcement Benefits of GIS

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[. . .] Mapping for tactical purposes is more for immediate uses. This technique is defined as "An analytical process that provides information used to assist operations personnel (patrol and investigative officers) in identifying specific and immediate crime trends, patterns, series, sprees and hotspots, providing investigative leads and clearing cases" (Johnson, 2000). Tactical policing helps police map out the crimes an individual has committed over a short period of time and attempts to "place" the individual or group in a centralized location.

Geographic profiling is another use for GIS that closely mirrors tactical uses. It is a more immediate use for the technology that can assist agencies with "forecasting an offender's residence or next crime target based on history and patterns" (ESRI, 2007). This technique allows law again allows law enforcement to recognize trends and directly locate an individual based on the location of crimes and the places that the criminal frequents. It gives a probability based on past placement. This data can be fed into a GIS program that can then, using layering techniques, give the desired location. The trends are based on the already stated fact that offenders are won't to operate within a specific perimeter of comfort and are not likely to leave it. The layering takes information on the place of the crimes, the times they were committed, likely targets based on previous data, and pinpoints a more exact location with this data.

GPS information, which can be used in conjunction with GIS systems, is also used to assist in tracking known parole violators and sex offenders. Both types of offenders are known so it is easy for law enforcement to gain access to GPS trackers in phones or other electronic hardware to locate these offenders. The GIS systems have always given police a possible location of criminals or future criminal activity, but coupling GPS information with this has allowed police to pinpoint certain individuals who are known and not just suspects.

It is this multitudinous use ability that makes GIS systems so attractive to law enforcement agencies. They can "use GIS for crime analysis, criminal intelligence, community policing, vehicle/personnel tracking, traffic safety, community corrections, and many other areas" (ESRI, 2007). However, law enforcement agencies are not the only departments that can use GIS locally or nationally. ESRI, a manufacturer of different GIS systems, says, in its brochure, that "In emergency management and homeland security, GIS is used in planning, preparedness, mitigation, response, and incident management…" (2007). Natural disasters, such as the recent hurricane in the Northeast are prime spots for the use of GIS by both law enforcement and emergency preparedness. The police can use it to look for crime hotspots and other agencies can use the technology to concentrate efforts to help individuals who need aid. With the ability of the software to map out different emergencies, preparedness for multiple disaster scenarios is much easier.

Police are also tasked with monitoring their communities for the potential for crime. Recent studies have shown that deficiencies that seem innocuous are actually derivative of an increase in crime in an area. In the words of Filbert (2008), "situational crime prevention measure that address criminogenic characteristics (e.g., vacant lots, bad lighting) of a place may result in longer lasting efforts" (Filbert, 2008). Police can use GIS methods to map neighborhoods with an increasing incidence of broken windows, vacant lots, light poles that have missing or broken lanterns and other information to determine where increases in crime may occur. Research points to the use of "broken-window" policing as one of the reasons that major crime rates in New York City have decreased dramatically over the past two decades. This type of policing has been applied to general crime analysis, vehicle crime analysis, serial crime investigations, and gang activity" (Ratcliffe, 2004). It is not necessarily true that criminal activity will increase in areas where society itself seems to be broken down, but often it is these areas that allow police to focus to such a degree that they are able to conduct their jobs more proficiently.

Problems

Unfortunately, any new toy that agencies use is going to come with problems. These range from technological glitches in the software to problems associated with the civil liberties of offenders. Recently, several cases were brought before various courts which discussed the appropriateness of using drug sniffing dogs in certain instances. It was said that, in some cases, the search and seizure rights and privacy rights of citizens could be violated. It is possible that the same types of cases could be brought to trial regarding the use of mapping to determine whether criminals operate in a specific area or not. Grant and Terry (2005) specifically mention that "This technology brings with it new legal challenges, particularly with regard to the balance between crime control and the private interests of citizens." Legal challenges to new technology are nothing different from the norm though.

Apart from the legal considerations that must be ironed out, there are cautions that officers and others must use when they are putting GIS into practice. Sometimes these systems can become a shiny new toy which are misused by police. These "GIS cautions include: are the data reliable?; is the map trying to show too much?; will this map reveal information about individuals who may be subject to privacy restrictions?" (Grant & Terry, 2005)The first concern is that police will use the data provided by the computer system rather than their eyes to determine where crime is increasing. Law enforcement agencies have to realize that these systems are only as good as the data that is inputted into them. The next caution regards the amount of data because the system will be able to show many potential hotspots using simple data. It is not necessary to overload the system with data to determine specific areas of criminal activity or serial crime. GIS systems are designed to quickly determine hotspots or areas of potential origination with a modicum of data. The third caution is the most serious from a legal and also a protection standpoint. Individuals of a certain age and status (usually due to disability) are protected. Officers need to understand the limitations that have to be placed in their efforts and work with legal professionals to fine tune the instrument.

Specific types of software also have individual problems. Ratcliffe (2004) analyzed many different types of GIS systems and found that these weaknesses included the facts that "STAC ellipses are tied to one type of shaped output…surface maps show a gradual change from a hotspot area to a less dense crime are with no indication of cut-off points, and LISA statistics with grid maps…are difficult to create" (Ratcliffe, 2004). It does not matter what method is used, there will be glitches that cannot be overcome using just one method. That is why most law enforcement offices use more than one means of GIS. It is a multilayered tool that works best when paired with others that will enhance the information given.

Conclusion

Law enforcement agencies are always looking for new methods of policing that will allow them to perform better and more efficiently. This has become more important recently because, in an effort to cut municipal costs, many cities have had to cut their law enforcement budgets. Because GIS systems can focus efforts and they are not overly expensive (depending on type), law enforcement agencies are not using them to an even greater extent than before. The various systems have also helped other types of agencies, such as emergency preparedness, fine tune their response also. But, unfortunately, there are issues that must be faced.

The issues, being both legal and structural, could be said to be the biggest deterrent to the future use of such systems, but law enforcement and legal entities realize that they must work together to eradicate crime. GIS systems, when properly used, are among the most effective tools that law enforcement has and any glitches that arise can be meted out in court or among the two professions. It is not necessary to arrest the use of systems because of any legal issues. Also, structural problems with different programs are mitigated by the fact that most police forces use multiple programs to ensure that they are getting the best output possible.

Because this is a relatively new field there will be issues, but they are minor compared to the benefits offered by this tool. Not only is it more cost effective, it provides for a level of safety that could not otherwise be obtained. It is possible to find fault with any system, but the benefits, in this particular case, far outweigh any associated costs. The use of GIS systems will likely expand, and as with other technologies, the systems will only get better. In the near future, officers will likely be able to use handheld devices such as cell phones and tablet computers to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Law Enforcement Benefits of GIS.  (2012, November 8).  Retrieved April 20, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/law-enforcement-benefits-gis/8562226

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"Law Enforcement Benefits of GIS."  Essaytown.com.  November 8, 2012.  Accessed April 20, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/law-enforcement-benefits-gis/8562226.