Reducing violent crime with GIS
Established to address exceptionally high levels of violent crime in Scotland, the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) uses Esri’s ArcGIS platform to gain invaluable intelligence about murders, knife attacks and assaults. The organisation uses this insight to improve the effectiveness of police interventions and ultimately better protect citizens.
The Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) was established in 2005 by Strathclyde Police to address high levels of violent crime. Now responsible for programmes across Scotland, the VRU works closely with other professionals, including social workers, health experts and academics.
ArcGIS gives the VRU a deeper understanding of patterns in crime and the ‘geography of gangs’, helping it to monitor gang-related violence
ArcGIS identified the best locations for a stop and search campaign that contributed to a 39% reduction in crime in Glasgow city centre
The VRU uses ArcGIS to share information with local police forces and other partners, helping them to collaborate on successful crime reduction initiatives
In 2005, the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that Scotland had one of the highest rates of violent crime in Europe. “We had an unenviable murder rate – particularly in Glasgow – and murders with a knife were three times higher than in England and Wales”, recalls Will Linden, Analyst Coordinator at Strathclyde Police. “We also had a lot of alcohol-related violence.”
Strathclyde Police’s analysis confirmed the problem and also revealed that levels of violent crime were broadly static, but with increases in certain areas. “Clearly, traditional policing by itself was not enough”, says Linden.
The specialist Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) was set up to tackle violent crime, with two clear objectives: to reduce violent crime through strategic and focused use of resources, and to work with partners to initiate long-term change in attitudes to violent crime.
The thing that was absolutely key for us was the flexibility of ArcGIS. It allowed us to build the solutions that we wanted
Will Linden – Analyst Coordinator at Strathclyde Police
A Geographical Information Systems (GIS) was crucial. Strathclyde Police already used ArcGIS software and Linden recalls, “The thing that was absolutely key for us was the flexibility of ArcGIS. It allowed us to build the solutions that we wanted.”
The VRU started by developing a geodatabase of violent crime. Up to 70% of serious violence is not reported to police, and the VRU wanted a comprehensive and accurate picture, so data from hospitals, fire service, schools, social services and other partners was added. The team then integrated external factors that affect violent crime, such as poverty, housing, unemployment and environment. “GIS helped us to identify the scale of the problem, as well as start to develop a deeper understanding of it”, says Linden.
ArcGIS is used to identify patterns and advise local forces when and where to target resources. Strategically, it is used to examine practices abroad, identify commonalities and assess whether they might work in Scotland. “We don’t have exactly the same problems as in the USA, or the same scale of problems, but we do have many of the same underlying causes”, says Linden.
Use of ArcGIS stops ‘needle in a haystack’ policing. During the period of this operation, crime in Glasgow city centre came down by 39%
Will Linden – Analyst Coordinator at Strathclyde Police
The VRU is building an international reputation for excellence and has received awards and plaudits, including the Centre for Social Justice’s ‘Public Sector Award 2009’, being highly praised by Channel 4’s ‘Truth about Weapons’ and is the only police member of the WHO’s Violence Prevention Alliance. Highlights include:
Understanding of gang-related violence
Glasgow’s East End has about 50 known gangs, each with tight territories that the VRU plotted on street maps. “This gave us a definitive geography of gangs”, explains Linden. “We could then map on incidents of violent crime and start to associate them with gangs and points of conflict between gangs. We overlaid network information on top of this to give us an understanding of how far and to where gangs travelled. The maps showed where gangs went, but also who they might interact with on the way.” This was shared with local police and community organisations to support initiatives for monitoring gang activities and reducing violence.
Reduced city centre violence
The VRU mapped and analysed knife crime and advised local police of the best locations and times for stop-and-search. The team also plotted ‘journeys to crime’ and combined these with transport and vandalism data from bus companies. Consequently, the police stopped some buses in the suburbs, which led to a fall in all crime – not just violent crime – in the centre of Glasgow.
Detailed intelligence for solving murders
Behavioural profiling and mapping of murderers and suspects can yield vital clues. “Everyone has lots of locations associated with their lives”, Linden explains. “GIS allows us to build up quite a complicated picture of behaviour.” GIS also improves accuracy, e.g. plotting the exact XY coordinates of where in a field a body was found. Linden notes, “GIS will always be a major component of policing work because it makes it so much easier to bring critical information together from different sources to make a clear picture of a crime.”
Clear communication with partners
The VRU has expanded: it initiates projects across Scotland and provides analysis for local police forces. As part of its remit to change attitudes, it works closely with various partners to tackle the causes of violent crime. Data is displayed clearly and meaningfully, whether by school areas, primary care trust regions or council wards. “By putting the issues onto a map that is relevant to partners, it makes it abundantly clear to them how violent crime affects them”, says Linden. “ArcGIS enables us to get a message out in a language that others understand.”
“Scotland’s figures for violent crime are coming down”, says Linden, but that is not enough, “We would like to see a lot fewer people being murdered and a lot fewer people being assaulted and injured.” The VRU expects to achieve this through continued use of ArcGIS.