Public Safety through the Lens of Big Data

New crime database arms Westchase District Patrol with analytical tools

Crunching the Numbers: Don McKinney, Westchase District’s vice president of public safety (left), monitors crime stats with officer John Reyes using the District’s new crime database.

The enormous volume of digital data created daily is used to customize everything in our lives from our entertainment and shopping experiences to health services and even our safety. Processing, analyzing and then putting to use all of this big data can change our lives today as well as influence the near future. Westchase District is harnessing crime data collected by the Houston Police Department to identify “hot spots” within the District and allocate resources to efficiently and effectively combat criminal activity.

 

Monthly dump

Since last November, Don McKinney, Westchase District’s vice president of public safety, has managed a unique database that receives crime statistics updated monthly from HPD’s Westside and Midwest divisions. “Thanks to our great working relationship with HPD, we’re able to acquire a data set that’s exclusively within Westchase District’s boundaries,” he said. “We have so many different ways we can access this information and sort it. We can drill down on the data by property number, by address, type of crime, date range and more. This allows us to see where the crime is happening, where the trends are. Then we can compare one apartment property to another, or compare shopping centers to one another. It’s a really robust system.”

 

The information comes directly from the Houston Police Department’s Crime Database that HPD collects whenever they run calls for service. “None of this data is classified, it’s all public information, but it would be nearly impossible for a private citizen to request from the police every month, much less be able to make sense of it. Heck, without this database software, I doubt I could make sense of it,” McKinney said, laughing.

 

Results and resources

Already, McKinney and the Westchase District Patrol officers have put the data into practice. “We’ve placed mobile cameras at two separate locations where we noticed there were increased amounts of burglaries of motor vehicles,” he said. “When we got the latest month’s data, we saw that incidents at one location had dropped to zero. That’s a direct result of using this data.”

 

McKinney said the database also is a great resource for him when speaking with property owners about crime in the District or perceptions about it. “It helps whenever I’m called to speak at any sort of event where people may have questions about what kind of crime is at their location,” he said. “I can run addresses at the office before I leave and see what kind of problems, if any, they are having.”

 

Raw numbers often clear up differing opinions about criminal activity in the District. “Sometimes people will tell me they think that crime is either high or on the rise,” McKinney said. “Now I’m able to give objective, factual information about their perceptions, as it may be that we’re working with a perception issue rather than an actual crime issue.”

 

Unique in Houston

McKinney said that to his knowledge, there are no other management districts in Houston with this level of analysis. “They may receive reports, but they’re much more static and the data can’t be searched and manipulated like ours,” he said. “We’re able to create maps, tables and trend lines as we want. It’s really quite remarkable.”

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