Software Aids Detective Work and Wins State Technology Award for
U.Va. Professor Donald Brown
13, 1999 -- Crime
mapping software developed by Donald E. Brown, University of Virginia
professor of systems engineering,
can recognize subtle increases in criminal activity up to three
months before they are noticed by experienced crime analysts, according
to test runs of the computer software.
has been running pilot tests of his still-under-development software
with police departments at the University of Virginia, in Albemarle
County, and in the cities of Charlottesville and Richmond over the
past few years. The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services,
the National Institute of Justice, and the U.S. Department of Justice
also have shown interest in his work.
recently captured a Governor's Technology Award for the crime-mapping
software, dubbed ReCAP,
which won for the most innovative use of technology in higher education.
Regional Crime Analysis Program (ReCAP) is a computer application
designed to aid local police forces in the analysis and prevention
of crime. ReCAP works in cooperation with a police department's
existing records management system (RMS), a geographic information
system (GIS), and multiple data mining tools. ReCAP allows a police
department to analyze crime in a more efficient manner and enhances
its ability to serve the community.
police agencies are now equipped with records management and geographic
information systems, which crime analysts use to manually search
through data, link records, and plot the results on maps. This process
is time consuming and requires extensive training. In addition,
there is no universally agreed-upon format for the data in the records
management system, making it difficult for jurisdictions to share
ReCAP team, headed by Brown, developed the following tools:
A database-query tool that allows the extraction of required information
from the records management systems. The ReCAP team helped three
police departments merge their RMS systems.
A set of mapping tools. One of these tools allows the analyst
to select all crimes or specific types of crimes in a given area
and to view those crimes in the form of a list. Another allows
the analyst to obtain information about an area, including the
number of crimes that occurred there. While these features are
built into existing geographic mapping packages, they do not require
the analyst to be proficient in these packages. Instead, they
provide an easily learned interface. For example, an analyst might
be interested in all of the burglaries in the vicinity of a particular
The control-chart tool allows the user to determine whether the
number of crimes is unusually high or low. It creates a graph,
plotting the number of crimes against their time of occurrence.
It also displays the average number of crimes and the upper and
lower range of variance in normal activity. If the number of crimes
exceeds the upper range, an unusually large number of crimes have
occurred and corrective action may be needed. The control-chart
tool can be run automatically at night or in the background, to
look for changing patterns of criminal behavior. If a change happens,
the crime analyst is then notified. For example, the analyst might
want to know if the number of burglaries near the liquor store
was unusually high.
The time-charting tool plots the number of crimes occurring at
a particular time of the day, day of the week, or day of the month.
This tool allows an analyst to determine, for example, if these
burglaries are more likely to occur in the afternoon, on Mondays,
or on the 5th of the month. As with the control- chart tool, the
time-charting tool can detect deviations from the normal patterns
of crime in an area.
The tactical-analysis tool permits the analyst to calculate similarity
between crimes. For example, the analyst could compare a burglary
in which the criminal used a crowbar to pry open the back door
with all of the other burglaries in the database. The tactical-analysis
tool would return those crimes that were an exact match and those
crimes that were similar, for example, a burglary in which the
criminal opened the front door with a tire iron.
the University of Virginia
Systems Engineering Department
Virginia Institute for Justice Information Systems
the Law Enforcement Community
Albemarle County Police Department
Charlottesville Police Department
Richmond Police Department
University of Virginia
Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services
Crime Mapping Research Center, National Institute of Justice
GIS Unit, Department of Justice
to Brown's team, the development of ReCAP has had the following
is now possible to map crimes quickly and efficiently. This makes
it significantly easier to determine spatial patterns in crime
and assists in the efficient allocation of resources. The mapping
function is also being used to provide reports for neighborhood
watch groups, reports to chiefs of police, and specialized reports
on the patterns of specific crimes.
The control-chart tool makes it possible to determine quickly
whether crime in a specific region is increasing or decreasing.
In testing on actual data, it was determined that the control-chart
tool detected increases in the number of crimes as much as three
months before the police noticed the increase. When combined with
the mapping tools, it allows the analyst to determine whether
crime levels are unusually high in a particular neighborhood.
The time-charting tool makes it possible to determine if a particular
crime is more likely on one particular shift or on one particular
day. When combined with the mapping tools it makes it easier to
efficiently allocate resources according to the time of the day,
week, or month.
The tactical-analysis tool speeds up the comparison of crimes.
An experienced analyst who has accurate and complete information
on two cases needs about one minute to compare them; however,
comparing one new case to 500 existing cases requires a full day's
work. The tactical tool can do this analysis in a matter of minutes
and shows a 90-percent agreement with experienced analysts.
enhances the ability of the police to determine patterns in crime
data. These include patterns in the location and time of crimes
and changes in the frequency of crimes. This allows them to improve
the level of service for the citizens in their jurisdiction.
makes it easier to create reports about the number and location
of crimes, reducing the time and cost of this reporting.
ReCAP team has assisted the Charlottesville, Albemarle County, and
U.Va. police departments in merging their records management systems.
The use of one RMS system instead of three represents a significant
improvement in overall efficiency. In addition, the merged system
has been placed on a network, so that the data is electronically
available to all police officers and investigators in all three
departments, representing an important step toward regional cooperation
between local governments.
more information on ReCAP, call Donald Brown, at (804) 924- 2074,
or contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charlotte Crystal, (804)