I'm trying to recruit local police departments into a new GIS certificate that I am teaching in Florence South Carolina. None of the Police departments have any experience with GIS, but they are all interested in the technology.

I'm making an image to advertise to them what they could learn.

Question: what are the hot topics in GIS for Police? What should I include that would really catch their attention.

  • 2
    Mention that you'll be serving donuts :) What ages? Is it field based or desktop based? Commented Nov 29, 2011 at 4:04
  • Yeah, show the nearest donut shops in a map.
    – CaptDragon
    Commented Nov 29, 2011 at 14:08

7 Answers 7


I am a full time GIS Programmer for St Louis County Police (Missouri).

The number one thing I work on are emergency management plans. Flood models, evacuation plans, security plans, critical infrastructure maps, sensitive populations, risk analysis maps (hazards overlayed with critical infrastructure and sensitive populations). My biggest project to date was laying out the new outdoor warning siren system (which saved us about $2.4M over the old system design). Response is a big part of my job when we have disasters, especially damage assessment and impact zone mapping, but disasters are rare for most areas (not for us).

Next after that is maintaining and most importantly automated error checking 911 related databases (MSAG, ALI, etc.) This includes maintaining mapping layers for the computer aided dispatch system. The spatial database and spatial database replications parts get pretty complex. Error checking has resulted in building some massive FME workbenches, especially for ESN/MSAG.

Next is crime reporting, namely incorporating geocoding with crime reporting so that I can prepare incident maps for the public and politicians. Heat maps actually are not that popular, but are used. I also collaborate with geospatial researchers to generate research datasets and do more detailed analysis (like getis ord gi* and scan statistics).

I also regularly assist with professional responsibility (internal affairs) to analysis AVL data to respond to citizen complaints. I also regularly aid the planning and analysis units who are developing beat plans.

I occasionally do oblique and aerial photos for tactical unit planning. I do not do anything with high resolution surveillance, since that is a 4th amendment violation without a warrant and I cannot see anything obtained with a warrant. I am just starting to work on live aerial imagery from helicopters and mapping for those systems.

Police officers really like the idea of being able to map leads, e.g. parolees, suspect vehicles, etc. in the area of a crime. But, there are some significant privacy and 4th amendment issues involved in allowing officers in the field to do that kind of mapping. Even for someone trained in spatial analysis, there are a lot of assumptions that create analytic pitfalls where you will accidentally make someone a suspect who has no connection to the crime.

Mobile mapping is not a very big area. Quite simply, almost no one has phase ii/next gen 911 implemented yet. When they do, all you really do is use the same basemaps as dispatch with one more record. This is different from in-car situational awareness. That is very popular, but almost always done with 3rd party applications (due to the dispatch interfaces involved). Still, there is a large amount of spatial data management behind situational awareness too.

So, if I were to pick topics in order, I would say emergency management, 911/computer aided dispatch, command situational awareness/common operating picture, beat plans, public crime mapping, internal crime mapping, in-car situational awareness, and unit support (e.g. tactical planning, professional responsibility, etc).

I would also highly recommend contacting Ryan Lanclos, Jennifer Shottke, John Beck, or Tom Patterson with ESRI for more ideas. I have worked with all of these people previously and highly recommend them.

  • its good to see all the reference for 4th Amend. issues; we didn't see much concern with that with our projects since all of the information we referneced is from systems that are based on existing history; such as known-persons etc; versus exposing 'theoretical' or 'profile' information.
    – D.E.Wright
    Commented Nov 29, 2011 at 1:05
  • 1
    +1 Seems like a tablet app for sketching out traffic accident scenes would be a real timesaver. Commented Nov 29, 2011 at 14:21
  • It would be, but LexisNexis eCrash is free, which makes it difficult to develop such an application. Commented Nov 29, 2011 at 20:27
  • Interesting, hadn't heard about eCrash. I've heard lawyers use LexisNexis, so do they buy this information to avoid chasing ambulances? Commented Nov 29, 2011 at 22:39
  • LexisNexis is basically a data structuring and analysis firm more than anything else. They make a huge array of specialized applications for unusual data sets. The law library application just happens to be their most popular. eCrash targets the insurance industry (which does have to pay to use it). Commented Nov 29, 2011 at 23:12

The implementation of crime mapping within large police departments (at least within the U.S.) is pervasive (and is only growing). In general, information gleaned from mapping crime patterns can be applied to many different facets of police work (as you can see from the wide variety of answers to this thread already). I will point to a few general resources I believe those interested in the topic should be aware of. These span both crime mapping specific resources, and more general resources related to implementation (but has an obvious connection to crime mapping):

  • The National Institute of Justice has a sub division called, Mapping and Analysis for Public Safety. There are various resources provided by the program for Crime Analyst's (various training opportunities, a kind of annual and really popular conference for both scholars and practitioners). Also check out the Geography and Public Safety bulletin. Even if your not within the U.S. you should be interested in what the MAPS program has to say and the resources they disseminate. Also be aware of potential funding sources from NIJ for practitioner/researcher collaboration.

  • The Community Oriented Policing Website, COPS, has alot of useful resources (and more opportunities for funding directly to police agencies). In particular their series of problem oriented policing guides offer practical and frequently scientifically based advice about crime interventions.

  • A project headed by a number of scholars at George Mason University called the Center For Evidence-Based Crime Policy. Here they have compiled various implementations of policing strategies, and one visualization of those strategies is shown in the Evidence Based Policing Matrix. You see all those black dots in the micro places bin? Crime interventions at micro places identified to be "hot-spots" for crime have tended to be very sucessful. They also have a list of potential references for local police departments that seek collaboration with researchers, as well as a list of short papers summarizing relevant criminological/criminal justice related literature of interest.

  • The International Association of Crime Analysts has various certificates that many police departments require for employment. They also have a board with job listings (taken by frequent job postings, the demand for trained crime analysts is high).

While you don't need to identify and implement crime analyst strategies for any police department, these resources should make you cogniscent of potential applications within police departments, and likely the training needs to be able to implement these types of interventions and programs. These resources have a biased focus on general analysis (as oppossed to tactical or work related to detective). But the skills needed to do either should greatly overlap.

I'm glad @blord-castillo's response is upvoted to the top. It is likely once you establish relationships with the police departments you will be able to better suit their needs in terms of training and more general advice. It wouldn't surprise me if you are met with a wide variety of situations, especially if you are dealing with both large/small or urban/rural police departments.

There are even a multitude of books about crime mapping and analysis popping up. Some I am familiar with include;

General Books (to name a few)

I would recomend reading Chapter 1 to both the Harries book the Boba book. They talk about specific aspects of crime mapping and analysis that should be helpful in gaining a better perspective on your audience, their needs, and the current state of the field (in the Boba book).

ESRI Centered Products

  • GIS Tutorial 1 by Wilpen Gorr and Kristen Kurland (I know this is a general product, but Willpen Gorr is a well recognized scholor in Criminology, and there are many examples of crime analysis in the book)
  • GIS Tutorial for Crime Analysis (by the same authors) just came out recently. If you want tutorials for beginners using 10 or later for ESRI products, these may be your only options.
  • GIS for Public Safety by Joel Caplan is a free pdf aimed at crime analysis using examples from ArcGIS 9.3)- There website, Rutgers Center on Public Security also has a host of general resources on crime mapping and analysis.

More advanced analysis (these are all free)

  • CrimeStat - a point pattern analysis program. It also has many case examples and a workbork, and the manual is a very clear and concise.
  • Risk Terrain Modelling from Rutgers by Joel Caplan.
  • Geoda - is a bit more general applications of spatial regression modelling than just crime mapping. But many of the examples Luc Anselin uses are crime related, and Geoda is currently recieving funding from NIJ for crime mapping and analysis. Again the Geoda workbook is known as being a very accessible introduction to spatial regression.

I know I go over-kill with the resources sometimes, to pair it down in a more manageble and prioritized list;

Briefly check out for examples of use and implementation;

Read Chapter 1 of these books for perspective on the field;

The rest is just of potential interest and may be helpful as either resources for yourself or to disseminate to the police departments themselves for further self-study.


In my previous position we were working with the PD/Sheriffs on Situational-Awareness apps for there vehicles. This allowed them to identify from there cars when they pulled into a apartment complex or area where there are people on probabtion; known offenders, repeat offenders etc.

It is/was a highly valued tool; since it allows the officers to know what and who is in the area when they get a call and need to respond.

Apps like this even made more mobile gave the users starting points to think and talk more about what they could use in the field. We added functionality that allowed access to Pictometry Images so when a stand-off happened that offices had good ortho-images of the site.


Crime-maps seem to be a popular topic. Here are two examples:



I read about a project in SF where police were trying to predict crime. While I have mixed feelings about the implementation, running a standardized test to explore it is a good thing.

Perhaps crowd-sourcing in general might be an interesting topic. The Atlanta crime map is built using ushahidi; there are many other great examples using this platform.


viewshed maps,
for seeing who can see them from where.

high resolution surveillance maps with ownership (parcels),
for planning early morning raids etc.

oblique photography (bing 3d),
for a good lay of the land and more raid planning.

traffic maps,
see where all the accidents happen, since when.

crime heat maps,
same thing as the accident map but one for each type (or level) of crime.

911 mobile mapping!
watch a caller move across the city.


Not ArcGIS but a good new online crime map for USA is

enter image description here



There are so many applications of GIS for Police work.

  • Accident stats Traffic flow (aid routing to 911/999 calls)
  • Chase scenrio building - work out how to direct a chase into a catchment area
  • Plotting access to building - raids
  • Identifying potential drugfarms (heat sources mapping - done in the UK this way).
  • Crime density mapping - including plotting against known serial offender address data (burglarys etc).
  • Violent offences - Link to businesses bars/clubs etc
  • In the uk the police have a need to plot different routes and entrances to rival fans in football matches - GIS could be used for this.
  • Similar to above: Marches - Keep opposing groups away from each other
  • Route planning risk assessment - transporting dignitaries, plotting routes with less risk of attack

I could go on, but there are so many applications if you really apply yourself to it

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