Highlighting the hotspots

A multi-faceted intelligence and mapping system is allowing West Midlands Police to target crime and anti-social behaviour effectively. Tina Orr-Munro reports

Oct 7, 2004
By Tina Orr-Munro

A multi-faceted intelligence and mapping system is allowing West Midlands Police to target crime and anti-social behaviour effectively. Tina Orr-Munro reports

A quiet revolution is taking place in West Midlands Police. Traditional policing methods have been swept aside and replaced by a system that not only takes the hit and miss element out of police work, but also achieves the twin aims of reducing crime and boosting public reassurance.

Project Spectrom, developed by Chief Supt Andy Armstrong, has enabled the force, for the first time, to deploy its patrols and other resources based on crime patterns and trends in the force area.

It was rolled out across the force earlier this year, just three months after the force commissioned work to develop a standardised approach to local policing.

“It has clarified the way we work. It gives professional managers a more structured approach to the way we deploy our resources, not just police officers, but also PCSOs and neighbourhood wardens,” says Ch Supt Armstrong.

For example, Operation Paramatta, which was carried out in South Sandwell Operational Command Unit (OCU), reduced robbery, burglary and vehicle crime by a third, a reduction that has since been mirrored across the force. Its aim has been not only to deliver results on key performance indicator crimes but also to tackle the ‘holy grail’ of providing public reassurance.

“We have now reached a point where surveys repeatedly tell us that fear of crime has not been affected or addressed,” says Ch Supt Armstrong. “What really impacts are the issues surrounding anti-social behaviour.”

Behind Spectrom lies the Force Linked Intelligence System, known as FLINTS, which was developed by West Midlands Police with the Forensic Science Service in 1999.

Spectrom has taken FLINTS and enhanced it with additional sources of intelligence, some of it drawn from partner agencies, to develop a more accurate crime picture of every area within the force.

The software analyses data collected over the past three years in any area, depending on beats and boundaries, and will highlight hotspots.

Mapping software can also use data from local authorities, such as ambulance logs, for assaults, woundings and gun shot wounds. This data can be combined with existing information to provide a bigger picture. For example, the number of used syringes found in one area, which may once have been overlooked, can be added to the FLINTS database where it may be pivotal to an emerging crime trend.

“FLINTS is the strategic tool that dictates where, why and how the force deploys its resources,” says Ch Supt Armstrong. “We are in the process of building on partnership information which gives us an even clearer picture of what is happening on the streets, which can also be transferred into patrol strategies.”

Information contained on the database is updated every eight minutes, giving a ‘real-time’ view of what is happening on the ground. This lessens delays in deployment decisions made by OCU commanders, which means the policing response is the most effective and the most relevant to the particular incident.

The system developments have led to a greater emphasis on data analysis. Each OCU has two full-time analysts who develop intelligence packages for the OCUs to act upon.

“The analysts play a crucial role in the interpretation of information and its impact on resource deployment. We have always had researchers who have worked on performance information, but this is separate to that. Any area can be mapped to see where and when resources are being called upon, so officers can plan effectively,” says Ch Supt Armstrong.

“Analysts have received initial training in FLINTS and have continued to receive further training over the past few months in mapping information, so that they have the best tools.

“The software will also help to identify areas of unseasonable activity by comparing data with the previous year at the touch of a button, highlighting areas which may cause problems in the future and become priority neig

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