Creating a More Transparent Partnership
Print Issue: February 2020
Crime in Lancaster, California, is much higher than the Golden State’s average. The city has 83 percent more crimes per square mile than the rest of California, and violent crime in Lancaster is almost double the U.S. national average, according to NeighborhoodScout—a platform built by big data firm Location, Inc.
Reducing the crime rate has been a major goal of Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, who was initially elected in 2008 and repeatedly re-elected to his post to serve through April 2020. Throughout his tenure, Parris worked with Lancaster’s city manager to implement measures to decrease crime throughout the city.
One factor that needed to be addressed to further this mission, however, was transparency into where and when crime was happening. Lancaster is a contract city—not a full-service city. Instead of providing its own policing services, Lancaster purchases them through Los Angeles (LA) County along with other municipal functions for roughly $25 million per year, says Patti Garibay, energy manager for the city of Lancaster.
“When you have your own police department, you have more access to information—everything is done much more closely with the city because it’s a part of the city,” Garibay explains. “We didn’t have the access that you normally have. On a daily basis, our city manager could not look at crime data and see where it was happening.”
This inability to assess Lancaster’s crime data also made it difficult to hold the contracted LA County Sheriff’s Department accountable for the service it was being hired to provide, Garibay adds.
To increase transparency, Lancaster partnered with IBM in 2017 to gain access to the LA County Sheriff’s Department databases on crime statistics. Over eight to 12 weeks, IBM built a dashboard for the city that let it see where crime was occurring in Lancaster, where law enforcement was dispatched, and how the city’s resources were being used.
“We were able to see things that we normally hadn’t seen,” Garibay says. “We could identify crime areas and identify the recurring crimes in the city…It was a gamechanger for us to be able to visualize things and see on a daily basis what was happening.”
The information provided through the IBM dashboard showed Lancaster officials that law enforcement was spending 70 to 80 percent of its time on community issues (neighbor disputes, larceny, and thefts) instead of Part 1 crimes (murders, assaults, and rapes).
“When we learned that, our council approved getting a hybrid policing department,” Garibay explains. Lancaster will continue its relationship with the sheriff’s department, which will focus on Part 1 crimes, and the city’s public safety director will take on a new role of addressing community issues as the city’s chief of police.
“That was one of the big takeaways for us—that there’s a better way to split and divide that role that will help decrease Part 1 crime,” Garibay says. “And the city will have much more oversight.”
Using the dashboard, city officials now provide quarterly updates on crime trends to the city council—as well as a biweekly report that integrates information from the city’s partnership with Amazon’s Ring, a doorbell featuring a security camera that can be assimilated with law enforcement surveillance systems.
Since the initial rollout of the dashboard, IBM has worked with officials to aggregate more information into the system, including code enforcement information, to provide an operational benefit. For instance, the dashboard lets city officials see where code violations such as vacant or open structures are occurring. The city can then address and monitor these locations so they do not become criminal hot spots that pose a threat to public safety.
To further enhance the dashboard, in mid-2019 Lancaster hired ENODO Global—a social risk advisory firm—to add a public safety threat assessment tool to provide insights into public perceptions of civic leaders and functions.
ENODO Global helps organizations manage their social risk exposure by providing social listening capabilities. ENODO monitors social media for posts that use key words or are published within a designated area—identified by geofencing. It then provides that information to clients to help them monitor public sentiment, prevent crises, and respond to incidents more quickly.
ENODO is in the process of integrating its system with the dashboard that IBM created for Lancaster, Garibay says, but the city is already using it in some ways to improve its communication.
“We’re able to see that most people use our Facebook site to learn about events in the community, so we’re using that more to push events and details out,” she adds.
Ideally, Garibay says the ENODO system will help Lancaster understand what topics are of concern to residents, what resonates with people, and what misinformation might be out there that the city should address.