Wednesday, March 11, 2009

80+ Church Burglaries In 400 Days. Can You Help? (Crowdsourcing Analysis)

St. Paul, Minnesota has a problem. Over the last year or so, 80+ churches have been burglarized. The St. Paul Police Department has asked anyone with any information on the burglaries to call them and has, apparently, released some of the data regarding the thefts -- which gives us all an opportunity to help.

I was first alerted to this opportunity by the blog Entropic Memes, which has done quite a bit to get the word out. The success of Jeff Carr's Grey Goose project and Mercyhurst's students own effort with the DNI's Open Source Challenge suggested that this was also a project that was perfect for some sort of "crowdsourcing" effort (i.e. giving it to lots of people and seeing what they could do with it).

The only piece missing seemed to be a platform around which the information and analysis could congregate. I contacted a couple of people at Dagir Co. to see if they could help. Dagir is a new company that is in the business of providing solutions to tactical and operational analytic problems for business and law enforcement. I had seen some of Dagir's custom analytic tools and knew they had the skills to pull a collaborative analytic platform together quickly.
  • Full disclosure: Dagir is run by Mercyhurst grads. I had many of them in my classes while they were here. I thought I was calling in a favor but when they heard the reason why, they were more than happy to contribute their time and expertise.

The guys at Dagir actually built two platforms for us to use. The first is a loosely structured wiki where anyone who has a few minutes to spare can help. Simple things like plotting the location of a church that HAS NOT been burglarized or reading and commenting on the one of the ongoing analytic discussions would add value to the product.

More sophisticated analysis is also possible through the second tool, an interactive geospatial analysis tool that permits the user to play with the data in a variety of interesting ways (the picture above is a screenshot of the tool). Want to search for only those burglaries that involved forced entry through a window? You can do that. Want to see how the pattern of burglaries emerge across time? You can do that, too. The Dagir team has even put up a "How-to" section on the wiki for those that really want to explore the power of this geospatial analytic tool.

The wiki platform also allows people who want to contribute to the project to upload any analysis (sophisticated or otherwise) or just plain information that might be of use to the rest of us. It really is a flexible set of tools (I was also glad to see the Dagir guys settled on Wikispaces as the wiki platform of choice. It is a very easy to learn wiki platform).

Even if you can't find the time to help analyze the data, watching the project evolve from this point should be an interesting case study in how these kinds of efforts work and how they might be improved in the future. It could also be an interesting classroom extra credit assignment for those who are interested in crime mapping or collaborative analysis.


Jeffrey said...

This reminds me of the other well-known crowdsourcing effort - enlisting online volunteers to search map tiles via Mechanical Turk in an effort to locate missing Microsoft research Jim Gray who was lost at sea.

Kudos to Dagir for coming up with a very cool approach.

Anonymous said...

Has there been any analysis using geographic profiling (ie ECRI's "RIGEL" software)?

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

I am not aware of any. Suggest you take a look at the wiki referenced in this post to see if that is being discussed.

crblogger said...

Great post and great information. This is a great exercise in the way that the internet is changing the way that average citizens are accessing and interacting with local law enforcement.

Kristan J. Wheaton said...


Thanks! Hope you can help over at the wiki or maybe just spread the word a bit more.