Seattle Police Department unveils high tech center for tracking and forecasting crime as it happens

When the number of 911 calls outnumber the Seattle Police officers available to respond, commanders have to make snap decisions on how best to deploy their resources. SPD’s new Real Time Crime Center now gives those commanders some sleek new tools to do it.

Using a dashboard that includes a real-time, interactive map of all 911 calls in the city, an easy-to-read overview of weapons incidents, and trigger alerts for when resources are running low, SPD say the RTCC is its latest attempt to take data-driven policing to the next level.

“You couldn’t make sense of all the numbers (before),” said Mike Wagers, SPD’s chief operating officer. “Just having it sorted … (commanders) can look up there now and see how many are active and how many are waiting.”

Mayor Ed Murray and SPD Chief Kathleen O’Toole unveiled the new crime center Wednesday afternoon, which has been under development over the past year.

Located in a 7th floor office inside SPD headquarters, the new logistics hub looks like how you might imagine it in a movie: desks on tiered floors staffed by crime analysts, a massive flat screen wall with numbers and maps updating every few seconds, and a predictive crime display telling commanders when and where they should expect to see a spike in crimes in real-time. City traffic cameras can also feed into the room, but cruiser dash cameras and officer-worn cameras will not.

The source data, pulled from 911 dispatch and patrol car computers, hasn’t changed but commanders can now view it all in a simpler format. SPD has also consolidated three data and intelligence teams into the new Intelligence and Analysis Section, which will staff the RTCC. The RTCC and its analysts will also help distill 911 call information and feed it back to patrol officers, Wagers said.

By analyzing mounds of crime data going back to 2008, the RTCC’s crime forecasting tool will alert commanders when they should expect to see crime spikes.

“This isn’t about prediction,” Wagers said. “This is about forecasting and noticing spikes in that forecast.”

When asked if the predictive methods would create a perception that police are seeking out crimes in certain neighborhoods, Captain Jim Dermody, a onetime East Precinct commander who now oversees the RTCC, said he didn’t see it that way.

“I don’t know a neighborhood that doesn’t want to see officers,” he said. “I haven’t seen those concerns.”

Programmer Tim Clemans, who was hired by SPD to work on video auto-redaction, helped create an early prototype of the new dashboard. Clemans, by the way, has been notified that his contract will not be renewed. Clemans joins ex-Amazon executive Greg Russell in a wave of tech reshuffling in a reported mayor-driven consolidation of IT at City Hall.

The RTCC dashboard was built in-house and SPD contracted with a third-party vendor to create its forecasting tool.

Funded through a $411,000 Department of Justice grant, the RTCC is just one result of a flood of federal cash coming into Seattle for police. Attorney General Loretta Lynch was in town last month to highlight some of those grants and meet with Central Area activists.

Meanwhile, SPD is working on rolling out a public facing data tool that will allow citizens to explore trends and retrieve more specific crime statistics.

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11 thoughts on “Seattle Police Department unveils high tech center for tracking and forecasting crime as it happens

  1. After reading this article, I wonder if the Dept. of Justice’s monitoring the SPD’s progress has resulted in more federal money coming into the SPD for such purposes as this high-tech center. If so, this means the DOJ’s intervention is helping in ways other than the main goal of improving the SPD’s performance as far as citizen interactions.

  2. Another great way to track crime as it happens is to answer the phone when a citizen is calling to report a crime in progress. Seems that’s not a funding priority.

  3. I don’t need a fancy model to tell me there’s a 95% chance of someone shooting up in Cal Anderson Park at any given time.

    Seems like a waste of money that’d be better spent on more officers walking the streets, and actually enforcing the laws we have.

    • It’s a fantastic idea to use our personal beliefs on how policing should be over actual models produced with real crime data.

      If you ignore data, you’re just chasing crime.

      So yeah, clean up Cal Anderson. Where will those people go? If only there was a way to track where people who were busted at Cal Anderson end up when back on the street? If only you could collect pieces of information, link them in some way, and produce real-time information that could be used to anticipate new crime areas. What a future world that would be.

  4. Caller:”I think I see someone being mugged in Cal Anderson”
    Police: “Our modeling says Cal Anderson is in the green, thanks for your call.”

      • Our city government could balance their checkbook and manage funds like grown ups. We’ll take bike lanes over police any day! It’s Seattle!