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How Tampa police are using near-real-time data to fight crime

The mission of the Tampa Police Department is to reduce crime and improve the quality of life through a cooperative relationship with all citizens, and SAFE COP has become a fundamental part of that mission

Crime fighting in the city of Tampa (Fla.) has been aided recently with the implementation of SAFE COP, a program developed by Assistant Chief John Bennett using technology from a company called NC4. Chief Jane Castor has been an innovative and proactive leader open to new opportunities in crime fighting strategies and leveraging technology to assist in the efforts. The SAFE COP — which stands for Situational Awareness for Enforcer’s Common Operating Picture — initiative is part of the Focus on Four Plan, which has the following components:

1. Redistribution of Tactical Resources: Officers and managers are responsible for tracking crime in their areas and devising plans on a daily basis to solve crimes and future offenses. The city was divided into three smaller geographic districts to more effectively manage this goal of attacking emerging trends and crime patterns.
2. Intelligence-led Policing: A critical element of this endeavor involves tracking offenses as they occur. The speed of this information provided to officers has been significantly increased with implementation of new technology (SAFE COP).
3. Proactive and Preventative Policing Initiatives: Crime reduction goals for the Tampa Police Department were distributed department-wide. Each officer was expected to show initiative along with a vested interest in reaching them. A series of proactive initiatives were launched to focus on the Big Four and the result is a reduction in violent crime.
4. Partnering with the Community: Already established and recognized police work was combined into a new and more comprehensive approach to enhance proactive communication with community leaders and in community partnerships that already were part of the philosophy of community-oriented policing.

The Focus on Four Plan is a way of life for the department, and it is communicated daily in roll call as well as community forums. The mission is internalized by everyone in the police department and it is understandable to the community. In fact, the department simplified its mission statement so that officers and citizens alike could better understand that “the mission of the Tampa Police Department is to reduce crime and improve the quality of life through a cooperative relationship with all citizens.”
Proactive patrols are the standard within this plan, and every officer is held accountable for reducing crime. This is where SAFE COP comes into play.

SAFE COP Technology
Tampa used SAFECOP during the Republican National Convention (RNC) and it proved successful. It shares real time information and intelligence in addition to deterring, detecting and potentially disrupting the planning and execution of crimes including terrorism.

“We realized, as a police department, we were kind of the inconsistency to the consistency of crime. Sustainability requires processes that are strong and standardized,” Assistant Chief Bennett said.

SAFE COP was built as a process fortifier. After installation, the technology acts like a change agent to help officers programmatically become their own analyst — it is a tool to get their own intelligence cycle to ask and answer via crowd sourcing process. As a result of embracing this technology, the Tampa Police Department has noted visible and significant differences. In one year, intelligence went up 300 percent.

“We think there is a value that our arrests are going down and so is our crime,” Assistant Chief Bennett said. Bennett observed with real-time mapping, officers are able to knock out crime immediately. They validate it in the system, put it on the map immediately, and through case management, they are charting crime and documenting it. Officers can log information by zones and districts and can communicate with each other immediately. Intelligence is captured, everybody sees it, and it remains in the system which creates continuity for shift-to-shift relationships among officers.

Bulletin making is advantageous in that officers can make bulletins in real time. He explained there are five different types of bulletins utilized — crime bulletins, wanted bulletins, officer safety bulletins, intelligence bulletins and other agency bulletins that are imported to other agencies noting that all agencies are contiguous in the region and essentially become borderless.

Bennett said that there have been instances in which an officer made a bulletin in the field and minutes later an arrest was made.

Proven Model
Intelligence-led policing is a proven model, and Bennett has been travelling the country speaking about it to other law enforcement agencies.

“We built it off as a best practice. It’s really getting exciting. It’s front-line friendly. It’s made for the front line officer to perform. It was born out of the need to progress and sustain crime reduction. We’re very excited [to see] where this can take law enforcement. Chief Castor’s vision is that we open our arms to help others and help our big brother/big sister agency out. She is so open to these opportunities. You can take part or all of what we do. We’re all in this together,” Bennett said.

“One of the best of many leadership traits of Chief Castor is her allowance to try, fail fast and get back on your horse by allowing her staff to have creative latitude to progress the crime fights. She gave us time to plod, stumble, and eventually land on a very simple technological platform for the benefit of the front lines which wasn’t a simple process. It took a journey through the complexity of police culture and agency self-assessment to break the mold and bring the mystique of solving crimes quickly to us and, hopefully, other agencies in the future,” Bennett said.

Bennett — who has been with the Tampa Police Department for 30 years — said that the implementation and success of SAFE COP and the Focus on Four Plan has made the past five years “the greatest five years of my career.”.

Karen L. Bune is an Adjunct Professor at George Mason and Marymount universities and a consultant for the U.S. Dept. of Justice. Board Certified in Traumatic Stress and Domestic Violence, a nationally recognized speaker, she also serves on the Institutional Review Board of The Police Foundation. She received the Police Chief’s Award and County Executive’s Recognition of Service Certificate from Prince George’s County, MD. She is in the Wakefield High School (VA) Hall of Fame. She holds the AU Alumni Recognition Award and Marymount University’s Adjunct Teaching Award. She appears in “Marquis Who’s Who in the World” and in “America.”