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Friday, 29 October 2010

Police Incident Data Set Discussed

Police Crime Incidents involving a firearm in London in 2009 at Borough Scale

Legend - Number of Incidents

Police Crime Incidents involving a firearm in London in 2009 at Ward Scale

Legend - Number of Incidents

In this post I am going to start to tackle a difficult question but one which is very important to crime mapping and my research. You may find some aspects of the answer surprising, I do.

The question is "How do my two data sets, the police incident data set - Computer Aided Dispatch CAD and my crime data set  - Crime Recording Information System  CRIS relate to each other?"

This is a very important question as internationally the United States "crime" mapping systems for the public appear  to be almost exclusively based on their incident or call for service databases whereas in the UK the crime database is exclusively used.

The first thing to say is that the two systems I am taking my data from - CRIS and CAD were introduced into the Metropolitan Police long before computerised crime mapping became common place. The two systems where introduced for different purposes. So a bit of history.

When I joined the Metropolitan Police in the late 1970s computers where just being introduced but the police incident recording system was still 90% non-computerised. There was a dual system of central and local. Emergency calls (999) were routed to Information Room at New Scotland Yard who would assign local units with mainset radios to calls. The local police station communications room would be notified through a Message Switching System (MSS) which printed out the call onto a printer. This call would be placed on the A5 pad that had been started at midnight that day and given the next number in order. When the call was dealt with the result would been written on the sheet. The MSS system would also be used to send and receive messages from other police stations to be dealt with - bail enquiries, Please Allow An Officer To Call On (PAAOTCO), court warnings etc. In addition the local police station would have the non-emergency telephone calls routed to it (which were quite often emergencies). These would be manually written onto a message pad with the nature of the call the location, details of the caller, time and unit(s) assigned, and when the call was dealt with write the result. This was often  in local code abbreviations the actual meaning of which usually had a correct cover story but often a (politically) incorrect everyday usage. The Comms officer would use the local police station radio system to communicate with police units and be responsible for monitoring incoming calls. Back then as now there was a problem with capacity so the telephone operators would divert everything that was not needed to be dealt with by the uniform police response team on duty to other police offices.

This is the first very important point.  The police incident system does not and never has recorded all calls from the public.

In the early 1980s the CAD system was introduced,  first in New Scotland Yard Information Room and gradually over the next few years to the Police Stations control rooms around London to replace the paper system. Numbers replaced the words relating to the nature of the incident and the result. A graded response system was also introduced. This is how I knew the system when I last used it operationally in late 2004.

So for the next bit of history, bringing it up to the present day, I rely on second hand information from what I have learnt through conversation, MPS documentation and these two website sources. The first is from the MPS website here and the Wikipedia site here, which is accurate (in the main) but needs updating as the information is now at least two years old.

It appears that capacity has again been the problem which has meant that CAD system being supplemented by the Call Handling System and the introduction of three Information Rooms around the MPS to replace the Police Station Control Rooms and the New Scotland Yard Information Room.

Call numbers are confusing. The MPS claims there are about 6,000 to 10,000 emergency calls a day and about 15,000 non emergency calls, a total of 21,000 to 25,000. The confusing bit is that within the emergency calls there are non-emergency incidents and visa versa. The result is that in 2009 there were about average of about 10,000 CAD incidents a day with a low of about 7,000 and a high of about 15,000. Of these about a third were dealt with as true emergencies - attend  as quickly as possible, a third not as emergencies at all - attend when police can or sort it out by other means, and a third as semi-emergencies, attend within the hour, if possible. This means that about another 10,000 calls are dealt with by the Call Handling System (CHS).

So in my analysis I have to be aware that if I confine myself to CAD data, which I have, and not delve into the into the CHS data, which I have not, then I am dealing with a subset of the total demand on police. I am reasonably confident, and I am working on this basis, that I am analysing a data set that has been selected by rules that are consistently applied throughout London over time. This I am assuming has produced a complete data set of incidents it is necessary to be referred to officers on duty to deal with. The filtering by call grading is a secondary part of this process.  

In the next post I will discuss CRIS and explain the maps at the beginning of this post. I think I has written enough for now.

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