How Open Data is Transforming Law Enforcement in Toronto

The Community Assessment Portal is a part of Toronto’s new community-based policing initiative, which uses open data to make both fighting crime and helping people a more transparent job.

The concept is simple, but its impact is massive.

An app lists nearby places offering useful community services, from meals to mental support. The app is used by emergency first responders to connect people in need to places where they can seek help. It can also be used directly by folks at home.

The app, known as the Community Assessment Portal, was developed by students at Ryerson University working with members of Toronto Police. It is a part of Toronto’s new community-based policing initiative, which uses open data to make both fighting crime and helping people a more transparent job. By involving regular people, the initiative also hopes to build better relationships between the police and the rest of the community.

Open Data Policing

Toronto City map

(Image source: esri.com)

The app in question borrows its data from the Findhelp 211 database — a 24/7 helpline that helps connect people in crisis to those who can help them in their hour of need. It uses a simple map-based interface to display nearby community centers offering meals, education, employment, housing, health, finance, and mental support services.

“We’re hoping that the referrals will lead to fewer calls to the police,” says Ian Williams, Manager of Business Intelligence and Analytics within Toronto Police. “We’ve created tools for traffic safety, organized crime enforcement, neighborhood safety, and individual investigations,” he adds.

Digitization of Law

Chinese Checkers

The idea may sound new, but law enforcement agencies have always relied on intelligence. These apps simply enable police officers to have all the data they need to make an informed decision.

The system is location-based, meaning officers can access online maps to find out if the area they’re in has a high crime rate, or if there are specific cultural sensitivities they need to know about. Think of it like Google Maps, but for the police.

The officers can use apps to find out where known offenders live or what’s the best way to handle a situation. Administrators can use them to figure out how many patrol units to send and what kind of equipment they’d need to control a crime scene.

Real-time Crime Reports

Real Time Hotspots

(Image source: esri.com)

Most remarkably, the local police have developed an interactive app that lets users report crimes as they unfold and stay informed about recent crimes in their area.

Citizens can use the app to report things such as theft, fraud, vandalism, and reckless driving. However, dialing 9-1-1 is still the best option during an emergency.

Open access and data virtualization technologies are taking the world by a storm, although Toronto Police is one of the first to implement this system within their workforce. They’ve built a system of sound data that improves community engagement and improves law enforcement’s relationship with regular people. Will your local police department be next?

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