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IU Northwest, The Times Media Co. bring Regional Crime Report to residents


Unprecedented partnership hailed as model for community involvement in addressing crime

Monday Oct 06, 2014


Residents in Northwest Indiana are getting a new, more comprehensive look at crime in their communities this week thanks to a an unprecedented partnership between Indiana University Northwest, The Times Media Company, NIPSCO and local law enforcement.

On Sunday, October 5, The Times Media Company officially rolled out the Regional Crime Report, an interactive tool updated by law enforcement agencies themselves. The initial rollout debuted with four police departments sharing data about crime in their municipalities. Chiefs at the police departments of Munster, East Chicago, Gary and Griffith are the first to publicly share information via the Regional Crime Report site, hosted on nwi.com, The Times Media Company’s website, which attracts more than one million unique visitors per month.

Readers in these four cities can visit nwi.com to view crimes in their area. They can search for an address and see crimes in that area. They can click on an icon for each crime and learn more about when and where it was reported and whether the case is open. There is a separate homicide map for the City of Gary in which readers can see homicide victims and details of the case.

The site is a logical progression in enhancing public safety after the successful rollout of the Northwest Indiana Public Safety Data Consortium earlier this year. Now numbering 15 participating agencies and counting, the consortium laid the groundwork by first facilitating data sharing amongst the departments.

As the chiefs say, crime doesn’t know boundaries, and what happens in one community impacts its neighbors. The ability to draw on information from each other’s jurisdictions enhances their own policing. The chiefs hailed the data consortium as a major step forward in terms of their efficiency and serves as a success story for what can happen when departments works together.

Griffith Police Chief Greg Mance, an IU Northwest alumnus, said the data sharing consortium, followed by the hosting of the crime maps via nwi.com is a major success story and a model for bringing this level of public safety initiatives to other metropolitan areas.

“When the NWIPSDC began in earlier this year, the participating departments felt that sharing data across boundaries really improved their policing, putting data about surrounding towns in their hands in real time as they patrolled the streets,” Mance said. “The Regional Crime Report hosted by the Times of Northwest Indiana takes it a step further because now we are empowering residents with that information. When citizens are informed, they can make better decisions that affect their own safety and also provide the police department with information to help solve or deter crime.”

The endeavor is possible thanks to a costly data compilation software subscription paid for by NIPSCO. Jim Miller, director, corporate security at NiSource, NIPSCO’s parent company, said the company is happy to support the effort.

“We rely on law enforcement a lot to help us get our job done,” Miller said. “We are happy to return the favor in this manner. Municipal budgets are tight and our ability to fund this helps them be able to use the data and participate. If we have more participation across more departments, it benefits all of us.”

Joseph Ferrandino, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at IU Northwest, put the wheels in motion for entire endeavor when he began mapping crime for the Gary Police Department. In 2012, Indiana University Northwest’s Center for Urban and Regional Excellence facilitated discussions between the Gary Police Department and Ferrandino. Then Gary Police Chief Wade Ingram wanted to bring sophisticated crime analysis to his department in order to make the force more effective but didn’t have the technology or expertise to do so. Ferrandino began providing the maps as a public service.

The partnership was so successful that other law enforcement agencies began asking for crime data analysis and soon thereafter, the idea of sharing data across departments for better regional law enforcement was born.

“It grew to the point where we had to make some decisions about the future of it,” Ferrandino said. “The best strategy was to have people at every department that actually learn how to do this.”

Ferrandino has been training analysts at the area departments so that statistical analysis of crime on a regional level can carry on and grow. He has gone from building maps to traveling to conferences and educating others on how the consortium works and its plans for the future. He traveled to Seattle in September to give a National Institute of Justice-funded presentation on the NWIPSDC at the International Association of Crime Analysts national conference. He also recently presented at the Indiana Government Center for State GIS Day.

With the foundation of the project laid, Ferrandino will now focus on the future and sustainability of the project with the existing partners as new agencies join, become trained and share information.

“This exposure on the state and national level shows the wider law enforcement and public safety communities how departments throughout Northwest Indiana are sharing information and collaborating with public and private sector partners in ways which form a new model of policing,” Ferrandino said.

Chris White, publisher of The Times Media Co., was thrilled with the idea of working with the consortium to bring this important public safety information directly to readers.

“We are excited to be able to work with Dr. Ferrandino's team along with the participating police departments to publish this incredible material," said White. "I have already spent hours working with the maps and I know our readers are going to appreciate having access to the data. I look forward to having other communities join in this project."

More agencies are expected to join the collaborative. Ferrandino said Portage and Michigan City are expected to be added within the next month. Editors at The Times Media Co. are encouraging readers whose neighborhoods are not currently available to approach their officials about joining the consortium and publicly sharing their data with readers.

“We’re pleased to share this innovative work with all of our readers,” said Bob Heisse, editor of The Times Media Co. “There’s room for every community in the region to join the Regional Crime Report."

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