Celebrating 50 Years of Service: Police Research Center Manages Data for Police

An officer in a patrol car during night duty using onboard computer.

by Romney Thomas

Today’s world is one of near constant communication, and for agencies that align with the criminal justice field, speedy and accurate communication is key.

The Criminal Research Information Management and Evaluation System is a state-of-the-art comprehensive computerized police information management system developed by SHSU’s Police Research Center.

The CRIMES program consolidates data from 53 agencies across Texas to make all submitted reports available to subscribers. The database also provides crucial information for research and analysis.

Dr. Larry Hoover
Dr. Larry Hoover
“The basic rationale for this program consists of two parts,” said PRC director Larry Hoover. “First, it’s consistent with our technical assistance mandate from the state legislature, as part of our appropriation of the legislature every year. Moreover, it provides a research database for graduate students in particular.”

Hoover compares the PRC to the MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“The reason the University of Texas runs a hospital is because when a patient signs in for treatment, they give the hospital the right to use their information for research and development purposes in order to control and find a cure for cancer.

Illustration of statistical analysis, using bar graphs and mathematical operations.“Similarly, if we’re running the police information system with permissions, we have data readily available for analysis purposes. Students can use this data to write dissertations and complete independent studies, which is not only beneficial to them, but also the field at large.”

One such project took a deeper look into racial profiling, an issue prevalent in law enforcement.

“Agencies are very sensitive to the accusation that they have participated in racial profiling,” said Hoover. “But there is a disparity in the number of stops of whites and minorities.

“A student using CRIMES data did an analysis of this issue, using Census Bureau characteristics to gauge the economic health of the neighborhoods into which police are called. By sorting neighborhoods according to degrees of economic distress and using CRIMES data to calculate how often officers were called to certain communities, it was discovered that on average, citizens in distressed neighborhoods call for police assistance four times as often as resident in economically healthy neighborhoods.

“It’s important to look at this information and for the public to know that police are not simply targeting certain neighborhoods. This type of information would be enormously difficult to uncover without the assistance of CRIMES data.”

Words associated with racial profileA major challenge the PRC faces is keeping the database compatible with ever-changing technology.

“We’re in a major rewrite effort right now to put the program language all in web-based or browser-based code,” said Hoover. “The information in the database won’t be accessible to just anyone with an Internet connection, but we need to use the same coding conversation as what is on the Internet. This will allow us to enable agencies to employ the next generation of information technology.”

This “next” generation includes iPads, tablets, and other increasingly mobile devices.

“You have to have the right computer language for an iPad to operate off a central computer,” said Hoover. “Obviously it has to be networked, but it also needs to be in a particular format or language.”

image of a finger on an computer tablet.“Agencies are interested in deploying iPads. If an officer is called to a scene and is interviewing a victim or witness, it’s much more convenient to take statements on an iPad than it is on a cumbersome laptop. An iPad can even be carried by motorcycle officers on traffic patrol where a laptop cannot.”

PRC also sees an opportunity for expansion into probation agencies.

“Probation agencies have approached us because in their jurisdictions, they have police agencies that use the CRIMES program and they can see how useful it is,” said Hoover. “They want a probation information system that they can keep up to date advancing technology. With all the possibilities available, it’s easy to foresee expansion into the corrections field.”

Through the CRIMES program, the PRC is constantly changing the way police agencies communicate with each other.

“For 50 years police agencies have participated in the National Crime Information Center,” said Hoover. “The NCIC manages felony warrants and car thefts, so anyone in any jurisdiction from across the country can access that information.

A map of Houston with a red pin“What agencies have not shared, up until recently, are crime reports. If there is a series of burglaries in one jurisdiction, surrounding areas might not know about it. After 9/11 the FBI launched the National Law Enforcement Data Index. We have been a strong supporter of that system. By working closely with the Department of Public Safety, we can enable regional data sharing. All agencies that participate in CRIMES are provided with a consolidated database. They can search their immediate area, their region, or the whole state for any reason necessary.”

Although the exact impact the CRIMES program has had on law enforcement cannot necessarily be quantified, Hoover is pleased with the progress that has been made.

“The general perception in the field is that we’ve enhanced the ability for early intervention in crime sprees, enormously in comparison to what used to be possible. This is the direction in which we will continue to work.”

Member of The Texas State University System