What Police Really Do

Police lamp

Police have a fairly obvious presence in our lives – we see them at events, driving on the roads, and we count on them if we happen to be a victim of a crime. They are so familiar that many people probably think they have a good idea of exactly what the police do each day. I've worked around police for much of my career, and because of this, I also thought I had a good idea of what they did. Was I ever wrong! And after reading the comments in a blog post the other day about police helping a guy recover his iPhone, I realized what I'm sure the police already know – few people in the general public really know or understand what they do.

Of course, I am still very, very far from being an expert on law enforcement. Actually, I'm not even close. But after reading those comments, I thought it was important to share what I learned about their work because it was not what I expected. It was many years ago, and the mayor who I worked for asked me to write a grant so the city could receive federal money to hire some police officers. I set about my task and soon realized I would need to categorize and summarize months of police calls. This was before we had a computer system that could automatically generate this type of report. So I had to read each call to figure out what category it belonged in.

That year, I was probably around 30+ years old. Definitely old enough to think I knew what type of calls we were getting – locked keys in cars, theft, gang or bar fights, drugs, DUI, traffic accidents, etc. And sure, there were those types of calls, obviously more in some categories than others. But what completely surprised me was that the majority of calls, and I mean the MAJORITY, were calls for domestic disturbances or for calls from people who seemed to be imagining things. (I say imagining because the police did go to these homes over and over again and consistently found nothing – no one sneaking around the home, no horse looking in the window, no one sneaking into a home and moving things).

Never would I have imagined that many families in our community were fighting or having disagreements of such severity that they would regularly have to call the police to resolve the matter. And most of the calls were from the same homes over and over again. It was the same thing for the people who "imagined" things. The same people called all the time, and each time an officer would have to go because they would not know if someone was really there or not unless they checked. But each time, nothing.

I asked our policemen about this, and they confirmed that yes, much of their time was spent going to resolve fights between family members. They shared with me that they do receive training in conflict resolution to help manage these situations. And one of the aspects of it that makes it challenging is they really can't tell sometimes who is "right."  For example, a husband might accuse a son of stealing something from his home yet the son says it is his. How is the policeman to know whose it really is? Yet he has to somehow help calm everyone down and work towards a resolution.

I came away from that grant-writing experience with a whole new understanding of what police work really involves and what our police face every day. Not only do they take care of the "bad guys" and handle traffic, but most of the time they're monitoring and helping smooth out that undercurrent of turmoil in our communities. 

(If you're interested in learning more about the type of calls police are receiving in your town, you're in more luck than I was 20 years ago. Today, many police departments post on their city's website the number and type of calls they receive.) 




Enhancing GIS with Augmented Reality

Addressing with Augmented RealityThe other day at work we visited with our police records office to learn more about their reporting software. One of the issues that came up in our discussion was inputting the “address” of incidents. The software they use relies on either point addresses or address ranges along a centerline – both common methods of address locating in a GIS. The problem with using these methods for locating typical incidents handled by the police is that incidents are not always tied to a specific address. Instead, particularly for traffic stops, police put down block numbers of a specific street on their reports. And many times, just finding the block number in the field can be a challenge. Houses numbers might not be legible or present, or in our case, addresses in one block can range from 300 to 1500 then back down to 400.

Initially they discussed using the nearest address that can be seen, but the problem with this is the incident is then tied to that address when it really isn’t. It might have been a speeding ticket that was stopped right outside the address, but that incident really doesn’t have anything to do with that specific property. The other problem is the nearest address that can be found might be quite a distance away. One other solution discussed was to just use 100, 200, etc. as the address. Normally this works to at least place the incident in the correct block, although it might be a problem if you have addressing like ours where the address ranges go up and down in one block. The other problem with using a number like 100 is that along our borders, we might not have jurisdiction over the “even” side of the street. So putting in 100 codes the call to the other jurisdiction. To get around this, the records clerks have to put in 101 so it codes to the correct agency.

We wondered why the software company, that makes this software for this purpose, doesn’t realize the needs of their clients and offer an alternative method of inputting addresses. If the records staff had a choice of inputting incidents by block and jurisdiction, the point could be placed in the correct location. This would at least take care of the problem in the office of coding the call. But what about in the field? One idea we thought of was using augmented reality to place virtual address numbers along the block. Police or other emergency personnel could view these by simply wearing glasses that pick up AR objects. This seems like a great use for AR technology to help our police staff have better and faster access to addresses when generating reports. And can you imagine how helpful this would be to an ambulance driver who is on an emergency call to a specific address? We could make the numbers as big as possible and place them along the curb so they stand out for the driver. And perhaps there could be some method of tying the emergency call to the AR object so it flashes red or some other color.