ADDISON COUNTY — As the Vermont State Police battles a recent increase in residential burglaries in the northern half of Addison County, troopers are using a new methodology that uses information technology as its centerpiece.
The Data-Driven Approach to Crime and Traffic Safety, or DDACTS, as the process and the technology are called, takes up-to-date crime statistics and presents them on interactive maps. VSP barracks commanders, like Lt. Gary Genova in New Haven, use this timely and visual information to produce what they say are better strategies for combating crime and improving safety on local roads.
“The hope of DDACTS is to go from being reactive to being proactive,” Genova said.
For the past year and a half, troopers at the New Haven barracks (as well as those in St. Albans, Bradford and Royalton), have been testing DDACTS. The system was due to go live at all 12 VSP field stations around Vermont last Friday.
The system allows troopers to submit reports to a database that then presents information on burglaries, thefts, traffic accidents and other incidents on a map. It also provides reports that show, for instance, what times of day and what days of the week burglaries are happening.
This gives Genova and other VSP managers better information to spot trends and assign coverage. For example, Genova said that when they could see that there were a cluster of reported break-ins in the Orwell area last fall, he assigned troopers to carry out more patrols in the area, which resulted in a decrease in such crime in that area.
Unfortunately, he acknowledged, greater enforcement often moves the crime to another area, and the past month has seen an increase in burglaries in the northern half of the county. Nevertheless, Genova has a lot of hope for the system.
“It is helping us get away from randomly doing enforcement so you can do purpose-driven enforcement,” Genova said.
This can include spotting where break-ins have been occurring, theorizing where they might occur next, and then assigning troopers to drive very specific routes through the specific towns, rather than just having troopers go from point A to point B in whatever way they see fit.
“If a resident sees cruiser after cruiser going down their road, they should be reassured,” Genova said.
Here’s how the system works. Every two weeks managers at the barracks look at the trends, develop a plan to counter those trends and then deploy the troopers to carry out that plan. After two weeks, they look at the results, determine what has changed and adjust the plan.
If the data shows that a problem hasn’t cleared up, efforts will be redoubled.
“We’re staying there until we see an impact,” Genova said.
Maj. Walter Goodell, the Field Force Commander for the VSP, said the fact that the system overlays crime data and motor vehicle crashes onto a map of Vermont is crucial.
“The mapping piece is a significant component,” Goodell said. “From a law enforcement perspective it is easier to process information from a map.”
Not only do maps allow troopers to spot new trends, but they also verify trends troopers may have suspected but could marshal the data to prove, Goodell said.
“We suspect there are more burglaries in this area, but now we can follow up and show it,” he said.
As its name implies, DDACTS also addresses a second important role of the state police, enforcing traffic safety.
Police recognize that a huge factor in vehicle crashes is inclement weather. But Genova said that state police hope to reduce weather-related traffic accidents by using the maps generated through DDACTS to better identify specific spots where there have been a lot of accidents, and then put officers in squad cars in those spots in the hope that their presence will change driving habits— at least in these dangerous stretches.
“What we can do is put out troops a few days before the bad weather is forecast to hit and get people to slow down,” he said.
An important aspect of DDACTS is that the maps showing recent crime, fires and accidents are available to the public online at www.crimereports.com.
Police hope that allowing the public to see exactly how many crimes have been reported and where will give citizens factual information and a realistic perspective on the level of crime.
“Crimereports.com … puts to rest the rumor mill for things so that there isn’t over-reporting,” Genova said.
Over the trial period, police said they had to work out some kinks in the system.
“We were making sure the data we get is the data they can use,” Goodell said.
Goodell said VSP leaders understands that this has introduced new procedures and, to some extent, a new way of thinking about their jobs.
“It’s a little bit of a change in the culture in the way we operate,” he said.
Goodell said the new system didn’t cost anything because it goes through the crimereports.com website, although the VSP did have to do a little bit of training and get a little bit of help from the Vermont Information and Analysis Center.
Genova said that the VSP continues to cooperate with municipal police departments and the sheriff’s department, as well as with civilian representatives from as many of the area towns as are willing to take part. This IT system is yet another resource to help all of the constituencies coordinate their activities
“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to work with other departments,” Genova said.
The local VSP hosts a Community Advisory Board meeting at the New Haven barracks once every three months. Genova said the DDACTS system has given him another kind of information to share with community members who come to these meetings and it enriches the discussion. Every town in the New Haven barracks’ coverage area is invited to send representatives to these Community Advisory Board meetings, and Genova said attendance has been good. More than 20 people came to last month’s gathering, and 27 or 28 came to the fall meeting.
Goodell was very positive about Genova’s engagement with the community, and he said DDACTS will help Genova, and other commanders, better communicate.
“It allows him to tell people why he is doing things the way he is doing them,” Goodell said.