As recently as three years ago, Milwaukee police officials analyzed crime trends by reading printed incident reports and sticking pushpins representing weeks-old crimes into maps, says the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Now they use laptop computers and wall-mounted flat-screen TVs to review interactive maps tracking crimes that occurred just hours earlier. Those maps are available to officers in squad cars and department leaders alike. When combined with data on the activity of officers, from traffic stops to arrests, it provides a picture of how well crime-fighting strategies are being executed – and working.
Department officials say a new commitment to technology is a key factor behind police statistics that show a 40.2% drop in reported violent crime in Milwaukee for the first quarter of 2010 when compared with the first quarter three years ago. “We weren’t being proactive,” Assistant Police Chief James Harpole said. “We were being reactive to the data. Today, we try to get out in front of the data.” The shift came rapidly for a department that historically has struggled to keep up with new technology. Within the last five years, previous computer systems meant to identify problematic officers and track crime both failed to work properly. The department is still wrestling with a digitalradio system that became operational five years later than projected, has run nearly $3 million over budget, and is still generating complaints.