Clicking on an incident — depicted by various graphics overlaid on a map of Powell — brings up a description that includes the type of incident (traffic stop, property crime, assault, etc.) and block number where the incident occurred. …
Department using data to guide patrolsCitizens wondering what Powell Police are up to in their neighborhood and around town are in luck.Thanks to two new tools added to the Powell Police Web site last month, anyone with an Internet connection and computer can see a map of incidents involving police and listen to real-time radio chatter from Powell police, fire and EMS operations.Smack in the center of the home page, the Powell Police site now features an interactive map that indicates where police have responded to incidents.
Clicking on an incident — depicted by various graphics overlaid on a map of Powell — brings up a description that includes the type of incident (traffic stop, property crime, assault, etc.) and block number where the incident occurred. Web visitors can sort through which incident types they'd like to view and select a time-frame of incidents.
Further down the front page is another new feature — a live audio feed of Powell radio chatter; essentially, an online radio scanner.
City Information Technology Manager Zack Thorington said he added the content to the Web site after getting the idea from a buddy in the Powell fire department. Thorington said he's always looking for new ways to share Powell information and draw people in, and he said the audio feed gives online citizens another reason to visit the city's Web pages.
Powell Police Chief Tim Feathers said the tools make it easier for residents to stay informed about criminal activity in their neighborhood.
“Having our residents as informed as possible is one of the key elements in taking a proactive approach against crime,” Feathers said.
He gave the example of a parent noting on the crime map that there had been a bicycle theft in the area. If the parent then tells their child to bring their bike inside, “We just prevented that $250 bicycle from being ripped off,” said Feathers. “That's when the value's going to come in.”
The chief also said there have been times that the police department has been aided by folks who were listening in on scanners. A couple times, officers were discussing how to locate an individual, when a scanner-listener called the department and said, “That's so-and-so on such-and-such a street,” said Feathers.
“I think it's just part of a well-informed public,” he said of scanner listening.
Making the information easier to access online increases the number of citizens likely to use it, Feathers said. Thorington noted that putting an audio stream of scanner chatter on the Web site eliminates the need for citizens to buy a $100 scanner to tune in.
Just as with a regular scanner, there are things that citizens will not be able to hear.
Police officers are able to encrypt their conversations with dispatchers at any time and block outside listeners. The chief cautioned that the encryption can be annoying to listen to. Though the conversations remain crystal-clear for police officers and dispatchers, for those listening in with a scanner (or online), the encrypted transmissions sound like a loud buzzing noise passing over the airwaves.
“It's kind of a fingernails-on-the-chalkboard kind of buzz once we secure,” said Feathers.
The crime-mapping application, powered by CrimeReports.com, also contains information that is not available to the public.
Police have access to far more detailed maps that include narratives of incidents, specific addresses and statistical analyses.
CrimeReports.com compiles graphs of hot spots in town, busy times of day for particular incidents, and tracks trends in crimes.
For a rash of crimes, like the spree of graffiti on Halloween night, “A blind man can pick that (trend) up,” said Feathers. But other increases in crime types are more subtle.
“You can have a period of time go by that it's only quarterly (that you notice the trend), and by then, it's too late — the trend has passed,” Feathers said.
He said the data also will help him more effectively direct patrols to the areas where they're needed and manage other police operations.
For example, if data shows citizens tend to come in at noon on Mondays to get notarized titles, Feathers could direct police staff to take their lunches at 1 p.m. rather than 12 p.m.
The CrimeReports.com service, which Feathers called “very cost-effective,” is $99 per month and used by hundreds of police departments across the U.S. — including in Green River and Sheridan.
The map is continuously and automatically updated — at 3 a.m. every morning — using information that Powell Police send to the company.
There still are some kinks to be worked out. As of last week, incidents at Homesteader Park were being automatically mapped on West Coulter Avenue, near the Gateway West Business Park.
In general, Feathers said analyzing the CrimeReports.com data is a question of, “What's it telling us, and, most importantly, what's it not telling us?”
The chief noted a graph available to police that shows incidents grouped by day and time of day. Right around Saturday midnight the graph showed a severe hot spot. While the image might indicate a consistent spike in crime at the stroke of midnight, Feathers said the real reason is less interesting — incidents without a known date and time (like graffiti noticed days after the fact), default to midnight on the first day of the week.