Crime database bolsters sheriffs

VISTA — The Vista Sheriff’s Station got a boost this year. It wasn’t a huge influx of manpower or an advanced weapon. Instead, it came in the form of a tighter interface between the deputy in the field and the county crime computers.
San Diego and Imperial counties are linked through an interagency crime database, the only one of its kind in the nation. Seventy-five local, state and federal organizations are plugged into an information hub known as the Automated Regional Justice Information System, or ARJIS.
Since its formation 25 years ago, ARJIS has proven invaluable in streamlining information transfer from agency to agency, area to area. Every member agency, from the FBI to the Coronado Police Department, inputs their data in the same, standardized form. Investigators and officers tracking down a suspect can utilize the records of every agency, not just their own.
“There are thousands of police departments around the nation, and they all in the past have done their own thing,” ARJIS Executive Director Pam Scranlon said. “In most other counties, you are stopped by jurisdictional boundaries. We have complete cross-jurisdiction sharing of this information.”
As useful as ARJIS was, the system still needed improvement. Crime reports were done on paper by overworked deputies in their slow time, causing a lag between when an incident occurred and when it was reported. The mass influx of crime reports created statistical crime waves, ironically, at the times when the station was most peaceful.
“It’s the entry date that yields the public records, not what we see on a daily basis,” Sheriff’s Crime Analysis Division Manager Kirk Smith explained to the council. “Public crime numbers are the public face of the service we provide. They aren’t the numbers that we make the day to day operational decisions from.”
Last year the Vista station rolled out a digital records management system. The system eliminates the middle man, allowing officers to directly file reports with the ARJIS database. SANDAG’s 2008 mid-year crime review, delivered at the Dec. 9 City Council meeting, showed the utility of real-time incident reporting in a concrete way. After a big spike in April, which accompanied the conversion to the digital system, SANDAG record matched the internal police record pretty closely. Smith said the process will be further streamlined next year.
What this means for the sheriff’s station is that the ARJIS team can do comprehensive analyses of the police data countywide and tell the stations where they have been effective and what they need to target. It also means civic officials now have a better overhead view of the crime situation to base their decisions on.
“We’re excited about this because it helps us,” Sheriff’s Lt. Scott Rossal said at last month’s Holiday Watch. “Individual stations have a pretty good handle on where their target areas are, their crime areas are.” He added that this will allow the county to coordinate a more global response.
This information will be available not just for commanders at headquarters, but for officers in the field as wells. They can use their PDAs while out on patrol to call up information from the ARJIS database.
“One of the biggest challenges they have is positively identifying people,” Scanlon said. “These are really empowering the officers with information they never had in the field.”
Ordinary citizens also benefit from the ARJIS improvement. Quicker update of ARJIS records means more rapid and accurate updating of the online ARJIS crime maps. Internet users can see all recent reported crimes by type for any area in the two counties.
“Our premise behind all this is that well-informed people make better decisions,” Smith said.
More information on ARJIS including the Crime MAPS feature is available at www.arjis.org.

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