Phoenix Police Walk A New Data Beat
Driving through the streets of West Phoenix Officer Jen Moore surveys the Maryvale Precinct
In “Maryvale you kind of have a lot of everything,” Moore said. “You have more of the violent crimes here. A lot of shootings, a lot of aggravated assaults, some kidnappings.”
She also sees a lot of gang and cartel activity as she patrols the neighborhoods from 23rd Avenue to west of the Loop 101 freeway.
“So, if you want some excitement you come here,” Moore said.
Moore has all the responsibilities of a regular patrol officer. She responds to calls, works traffic and backs up other officers when they’re in trouble, but her main presence in the Maryvale Precinct is to provide a different kind of backup.
Moore is the intelligence officer for her precinct. She’s trained to use information and databases that a traditional patrol officer doesn’t have access to. The radio cracks and one of her fellow officers asks Moore for help identifying someone involved in an accident. The officer knows the victim’s name, race and possibly the year he was born.
Moore puts the limited information into her computer and in a matter of moments comes back with the correct identification. Officer Moore is like a mobile intelligence outpost. Her small patrol car is crammed with computer terminals, keyboards and radios.
While she’s helping other officers process data, she’s also sending information to the Phoenix Intelligence Center, or PIC. Housed in a highly secured location in Phoenix along with homeland security offices, PIC data analysts work to create profiles of crime patterns.
Phoenix Intelligence Center
Geary Brase is commander of the PIC. He said aside from assisting patrol officers, the goal of the PIC is to come up with more detailed crime statistics that the department can put to use.
“You really want to find out not just how many burglaries or how many robberies or this or that kind of a crime went on, you want to find out where its trending, specifically,” Brase said.
While Moore and other intelligence officers are sending data in from their patrols, the analysts at the PIC have access to much larger databases like the National Vehicle Location Service, which draws data from a network of privately owned license plate reading cameras from across the country. Brase said the PIC turns all of this data into what he calls “actionable intelligence.”
“In order to solve that crime right away, not sit on it,” Brase said. “Not pass it off to a detective that gets to it much later, but to respond to that call and follow up on it immediately.”
Does this kind of enhanced data tracking pose privacy questions? Cody Telep is a criminology professor at Arizona State University. He’s been monitoring the intelligence officer program and said while more data is being shared among the police force, the information itself isn’t new.
“It’s really about using existing resources and existing information more efficiently and more effectively,” Telep said. But he cautions that giving patrol officers access to more data comes with the need for more oversight and training. He said that means “making sure you’re protecting the privacy of that information, ensuring that citizens’ rights are protected and that that information is secure.”
Knowing The Beat
Back in Maryvale officer Moore drives her car through a neighborhood she knows all too well.
“Right now we’re at 43rd Avenue and Thomas and this is one of our problem areas,” Moore said, driving her patrol car down a narrow alley. “This apartment complex -there’s a lot of property crime that goes on here, and you can see that.”
She points out kicked in doors and walls that are scrawled with gang tags and graffiti. Moore sees a man she knows doesn’t live in the complex and gets out of her car to investigate. She didn’t need a computer or facial recognition to tell her the man was out place. She knows because it’s her beat.
“We’re still cops,” Moore said. “You gotta get out in the street and it’s - part of it is human intelligence – you gain that human intelligence and that’s by getting out and walking your area, talking to people. The streets talk. People talk.”
She said the computers and the data will only get you so far. For Officer Moore, smart policing means knowing the community you serve.