GIS Expands Into Law Enforcement, Healthcare – ESRI Opens Up


Geographic information systems (GIS) has become an important tool for first responders including law enforcement, emergency management and healthcare. This new technology has altered the way police view crime and offers law enforcement a cutting-edge analytical tool that was previously unavailable. For healthcare professionals, GIS can track harmful contaminations and help to prevent the spread of disease.

In a recent case the Dallas Police Department has been able to continue updating and expanding its GIS systems through a new program spearheaded by a police officer. That program will foster the GIS skills of other officers on the police force and give local residents more information on the crimes in their neighborhoods.

Senior Cpl. DJ Beaty of the Dallas Police Department knew that none of his department’s officers had GIS degrees or training and decided he wanted to be the first. During his time as a neighborhood police officer, Senior Cpl. Beaty got involved with various neighborhoods’ crime watch programs and many of the citizens he interacted with wanted to see crime statistics on a map so they could get an idea of patterns and trends of criminal activity in their geographic areas. Beaty took on crime data analysis duties in addition to his regular job responsibilities, and over his career has gone back to school to expand his skills in this area.

“The Dallas Police, through GIS can offer local residents an interactive view of the boundaries of their neighborhood and what is happening in terms crimes, patterns, time of the day, etc. For law enforcement, officers on the street have an expanded view of that data and can submit arrest reports from the field so we can start to put together a clearer picture of what is happening and where,” Senior Cpl. Beaty explains in an interview with CivSource.

According to Beaty, Dallas police have done a full analysis of the city with the aid of GIS which has helped to identify more specific focus areas for police efforts. The city system uses ESRI’s mapping technology as a backbone, with some law enforcement specific application overlays. The ability for ESRI to show aggregate data from the surrounding municipalities also allows local police to understand where activities may originate from or spread to inside and outside municipal borders.

He explains that officers are inputting 200-300 entries per day about the areas they serve, and that information is then aggregated for analysis that officers can use to track and fight crime.

In healthcare, GIS systems are providing mission critical support in ways that may not be immediately obvious. A recent regional health crisis in Lake Champlain shed new light on the importance of geographic information systems (GIS) technology for tracking harmful contaminations and the crucial role that trained GIS professionals play in assisting the health care industry to prevent the spread of disease.

Lake Champlain was known as a tourist destination until pollution contaminated water and exposed local residents and tourists. GIS tools helped researchers determine that people living within a half mile of an algae-contaminated body of water have more than double the risk of coming down with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“The use of GIS technology can provide the health care industry with the spatial context needed to understand and respond to the spread of infectious disease,” says Stephen McElroy, GIS program chair at American Sentinel University. “GIS trained professionals are key players in gathering data, conducting analysis and producing maps that convey important community health information.”

Health officials in and around Lake Champlain were able to track the spread of the algae-contaminated water with GIS mapping.

What’s next for GIS?

Schools like American Sentinel and others are moving to add GIS training and degree programs in an effort to help train first responders and others in the public sector on the governmental uses of GIS. ESRI for its part, which dominates public sector geospatial data services has recently made moves to open up more of its platform, increasing interoperability with mapping applications and improving data collaboration. The efforts are part of a broader wave to use mapping data and big data analytics to power smart cities and more effective public health and safety response.

ESRI users including municipalities and other public sector organizations can choose to use an open data license in effort to offer more of their data to the public and developers. Based on ESRI’s recent interviews this is likely just a first step. Watch this space.