One police car, then another races down your street and around the corner, lights flashing and sirens wailing and you wonder what happened and where. Or you're looking for a house in a neighborhood and wonder how safe the community really is.
In an effort to answer such questions, police officials at the Southwest Regional Police Department have begun using a crime mapping system that details the location, time and nature of crimes committed in the nine communities its officers patrol, and makes the information available to the public for free. The department is the first in Pennsylvania to use the system, called RAIDS, to allow residents to research crime in their neighborhoods using their computers or smart phones.
By informing the public, police give residents a better chance to guard against crime -- someone who never locked his door before, for instance, might do so if he knew a neighbor was recently burglarized, said John Dale Hartman, chief of the regional department.
"We live in a time when people have a right to know, a need to know and want to know, so we've tried to be as transparent as we possibly can be with the public and what's going on in their area," Chief Hartman said. "You can better prepare yourself and protect yourself if you know what's going on in your communities."
The information is available on the crime map at www.raidsonline.com or at www.swrpd.us using the community-oriented police link. The mapping will include crimes committed in the department's territory including Belle Vernon and Newell in Fayette County; Long Branch, Coal Center, Cokeburg, Bentleyville and Union Township in Washington County; and Perry and Wayne townships in Greene County. It does not include information on crimes handled by state police in the department's coverage area.
When information is filed in the department's existing records management system, the department's information technology company, In-Synch Systems of Zelienople, also uploads it into the RAIDS system, which then pinpoints the crime -- no matter what kind -- on a Google Earth map. Information is updated daily.
Residents can isolate their search terms, looking at all the crimes on a given street or community, or looking at all incidents of a particular crime in an area during a particular period. They also can sign up for a customized report about crimes committed in their community, emailed daily, weekly or monthly. The system also allows users to send anonymous tips to the police.
The RAIDS system, which was developed by former police officer and crime analyst Sean Bair in Denver, also allows residents to analyze the information through a searchable, interactive "dashboard." By changing their requests, users can see data presented in different ways: a pie chart, for example, can show what percentages of the overall crime rate are homicides, burglaries and assaults or what days of the week show the most incidences of various crimes.
To people in the community, said Union resident and community watch president Linda Evans-Boren, the system helps residents stay alert and ultimately help police catch the bad guys.
"If we can see what's happening in the area, we can be more in tune with what to look for," Ms. Evans-Boren said.region - interact
Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: email@example.com or 412-263-1719. First Published April 7, 2012 12:00 AM