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At Niagara County’s Crime Analysis Center, the future of policing is now

NIAGARA FALLS – Crime analysis is not a new concept, but a new entity that links departments, officers and data in real time is the future of policing that has come to Niagara County.

The Crime Analysis Center, funded by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice, will be showcased to county officials and other police agencies on Monday. However, the center leaped into action on Jan. 1 as soon as the final computer was put in place.

The Niagara Falls center comes on the heels of similar centers opened, since 2007, in Buffalo, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester and Binghamton – a Division of Criminal Justice commitment of nearly $5.5 million across the state. A new center is set to open in Franklin County this summer.

Michael C. Green, the executive deputy commissioner of the division and former Monroe County district attorney, said the center is an initiative of the division and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to support law enforcement through the use of technology.

In a written statement, Cuomo called the Niagara Crime Analysis Center the latest example of the statewide effort to allow investigators to work smarter and more efficiently when it comes to solving crimes and making communities more safe.

“The digital age has ushered in an unprecedented amount of data that now enables law enforcement to develop trends and analyze crime patterns,” Cuomo said.

The division spent $164,000 for the hardware in the Niagara County center, which will be staffed by Niagara Falls Police and Niagara County Sheriff’s and District Attorney’s offices. Sheriff James R. Voutour said the Sheriff’s and District Attorney’ offices pooled $20,000 in criminal justice grant money received through State Sen. Robert G. Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, to hire a full-time crime analyst.

Niagara Falls Police Superintendent E. Bryan DalPorto said the center also has a full-time analyst, detective and two officers, and additional staff and support are being sought through federal agencies and other Niagara County law enforcement partners. DalPorto, Voutour and District Attorney Michael Violante pushed for the new crime-fighting tool in Niagara County.

“Crime knows no borders or jurisdiction and the analysis is part of how law enforcement has really come to the forefront of what we do,” said DalPorto.

A new way to fight crime

Voutour said this center will be a huge change.

“Right now we don’t have the time or expertise to do a lot of intelligence tracking,” said Voutour.

“We want our officers to call up (the center) on a regular basis to find out the trends and who is in the area. That type of intelligence takes us a long time to mine right now. With an intelligence center, that can be done very quickly.”

Green, a former prosecutor, said that in the past, the exchange of information was slow.

“A police officer would pick up the phone and call another state agency and ask, ‘Do you have this?’ It was a slow and inefficient way to get information,” said Green. “In the (CAC) the person in the center can make those exchanges instantly – whatever they need, 24/7.”

He noted that beyond police work involving traditional public safety, this can also be a tool for Homeland Security in fighting terrorism.

“Making those immediate connections can be so important. An analyst can instantly get that feedback and police officers can start taking action right away and save lives. If they have to wait even an hour or a day or a weekend to get that information back, who knows what happens in the meantime,” said Green

“What (crime analysts) do isn’t pounding the beat like police work. What they do is the technical job,” said DalPorto, standing next to a video monitor that consumed an entire wall.

Matthew Robbins, the Niagara Falls department’s senior crime analyst and field intelligence officer, said video feeds from individual computers can be displayed on the wall monitor for everyone to see. And, security cameras from around the city can be monitored on the big screen.

The center’s goal is to eventually monitor all city and school district surveillance cameras.

Technology is key

Robbins, who has been a crime analyst since 2012, said the city has come a long way, even in the short time since he started working for the Niagara Falls Police Department as an intern while he completed his MBA in strategic management.

“Back then, my office literally was a converted closet with no windows,” he said.

He added that the center has an open design that encourages sharing data and seven work stations with two to three computer screens on each desk. The multiple screens encourage multitasking, such as looking at data on one screen, writing a report on another and checking email on a third.

The video wall can display multiple sources of data at the same time.

Robbins said in just four years he has seen continuing updates in technology.

“We’ve gone to three-dimensional mapping and not just dots on a paper,” said Robbins, who added that license plate readers obtained a few years ago also have been a huge step forward in location analysis and data gathering. Social media is also part of data gathering.

“They don’t realize that we are on there watching,” Robbins said.

Green echoed Robbins, noting that the cutting-edge technology available when Rochester’s Crime Analysis Center opened 10 years ago is vastly improved.

How crime analysis is used

Robbins said crime trends are identified through regular examinations of two-week crime periods and what was happening the year previously. The data generated points to community hot spots so manpower can be assigned appropriately by the Sheriff’s Office or Niagara Falls department.

“When detectives are investigating a case they may need analysis, like known relationships, pictures. We have all the hardware and software here to put it together,” said DalPorto.

DalPorto said the goal is to employ real-time crime analysis.

“As an officer is responding to a call, the analyst is gathering data and feeding that data to the officers in real time,” added DalPorto

When an officer calls in details of a crime, analytical software examines the collected data looking for clues or patterns of criminal activity. These patterns can also be used to identify suspects. This wealth of information – which may include photos of suspects, records of arrests, area crime trends and more, are then placed at the fingertips of officers and investigators in the field as they are on the scene of a crime.

“As detectives are interviewing people the crime analyst can start running data about known associates, patterns, suspect vehicles,” said DalPorto.

DalPorto pointed to a just-completed investigation of an assault on Goat Island with State Parks Police. Analysts, he said, were able to identify a vehicle from surveillance video and other data that zeroed in on the owner.

“They were able to look for known associates of the person who may have been driving that car and that’s how we made an arrest,” said DalPorto.

Role of police officer

“We don’t replace an officer on the street. We are there to provide whatever they need. We are a force multiplier. They can do so much more than they can do on their own,” said Robbins.

Green said the technological support provides more information faster. He said previously, it would take weeks to find information that now can be obtained immediately as an officer pulls up to a crime scene.

“It helps make them safer because they know where the threats are coming from and helps them do their job better because they have more information,” Green said. “At the end of the day we still rely on our police officers to do that work.”

He added that police intuition is very important. To that end, police officers are training analysts so they can understand the view of experienced investigators.

Voutour said by teaching crime analysts to be proactive, trends or suspect identities may be available even before officers seek out that information.

The future of policing

Green said crime analysis has helped solve murders and rapes, find hostages and locate missing persons – not only solving crimes but seeking out crime patterns and hot spots. And, data centers across the state will also work in concert.

DalPorto called the new center the county “nerve center” and said real time crime analysis is the wave of the future.

“I think we are on the cutting edge of that,” DalPorto added.

He conceded that although detectives and officers were somewhat apprehensive about the new technology, things are working out well.

“It lets (detectives) do the digging via computers and charting – all the technical stuff, so that police officers can do police work,” said DalPorto.

“No question, it is an exciting time,” said Green. “The more support, the more tools we give our officers will help them solve crime. But it also gives proactive police departments additional tools and information.”