MONTROSE COUNTY – Crime-tracking geographic information system software is widely used in large, densely populated cities like New York and Denver, but Montrose County Sheriff Rick Dunlap says it gives law enforcement the upper hand in rural, less-populated areas – like Montrose County.
Thanks to a master’s degree capstone project completed by Montrose County Governmental Affairs Director Jon Waschbusch, and a year of crime-data input by the county’s GIS department, Dunlap and his deputies can now to track where specific crimes occur, and how effective efforts to reduce, curb and even stop crimes can be.
“Montrose County is spread out over a large area, and it can be hard to accurately depict where certain crimes are forming and trending,” Dunlap said in a recent interview. “What this software does is, it affords us the opportunity to direct our efforts where they are needed most.”
It has taken more than a year to bring it the project, which began more than a year ago when Waschbusch embarked on his master’s degree, to fruition, but once Waschbusch explained the benefits of the crime-tracking software he was studying, to Dunlap, the department was onboard.
Throughout 2012, the county’s GIS Department enter manually the whereabouts of reportable crimes ranging from home invasions to assaults, burglaries NS domestic violence.
“It took quite a while to enter that data,” Dunlap said, “but once that was done, we were able to get geographical maps, that showed where our trouble spots are.”
With trouble spots mapped out, Dunlap and his deputies increased their visibility in those areas, talked to residents – especially after burglaries had occurred – and began more concentrated patrols in high-volume crime-report areas. With 2012’s data entered, and patrols working on those problem areas, data compiled during the first quarter of 2013 identified whether or not deputies had succeeded in responding to problem areas.
“By the second quarter of 2013, we started to see a decline in those areas,” Dunlap said. “We started to see big changes,” he said, with crime declining in high-volume areas, and data picking up in new areas, where high-volume crime was escalating. “When we start to see a crime pick up in a certain area, now we can get ahead of it,” he said. “It’s a wonderful program.”
While the manual uploading of the 2012 county crime data was a long process, now that the system is operative, the data is no longer uploaded by hand. Data from every 911 call for a reportable crime is is added to the databank automatically. Over time, Dunlap said, the information will become even stronger and more reliable.
Besides showing where certain crimes are trending geographically, software will also show what time of day trends peak, and measure how long before emergency responders to arrive, Dunlap said.
“We will be able to track our dispatch time to our arrival time,” Dunlap said, thanks to the software. “At that point we can figure out what we can do to lessen those response times.”
Interestingly, the data show that most crimes in Montrose County occur on Sunday mornings, between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m., when many residents are attending church services.
“People might say that with the population we have, it should be easy,” Dunlap said, to track and fix crime in such a small community. “It’s not easy, because things are scattered all over. We have a huge area, with a little population. It’s those areas with population where the thieves are going to look. They do their research and go to where they haven’t seen a cop in awhile.”
In addition to the investment of countless staff hours spent uploading crime data in 2012, the computer software has cost approximately $5,000, to date.
Dunlap said it's well worth it.
“As far as I am concerned, the program has already paid for itself,” he said. “Anything we can do to curtail the crime, I think it’s worth the investment.”