OGDEN, Utah (ABC 4 News) – As Officer John Thomas patrols Ogden's southwest corner, he knows exactly where he's going.
"We have a lot of metal thefts, scrap thefts out in the industrial park,” he says, peering into alleyways as he rolls through Area 7.
Who assigned Officer Thomas to this detail? A computer program.
Police in this Utah city are adding what appears to be a powerful weapon to their arsenal, a weapon aimed at stopping many crimes before they happen.
Thomas’s dashboard-mounted lap top computer, loaded with a new software, is designed to make Ogden police officers so smart they can practically predict where crimes are going to happen and even who are likely to commit them.
The computer program is called "Spatial Key. It is a virtual commander that gathers, sorts, analyzes and disseminates almost real-time crime information.
"I can respond to that, do extra patrols, see if I can develop anything during the daylight hours," says Thomas.
"It's like fishing,” says retired officer and crime analyst Dave Weloth. “You’ve got to go where the fish are."
Weloth is explaining the idea behind computer-assisted police work. As he demonstrates the animated maps that pinpoint crime in Ogden, the projection screen displays color-coded markers that designate high crime areas. A click or two of the mouse and Weloth can make the map show categories of crimes, along with areas where they’re happening. Another click, and a chart pops up and displays numbers of crimes by category, date and even time of day.
Ogden Police Chief Jon Greiner hails this technology as the most effective tool he’s ever seen for showing his commanders where to send their officers.
"I already have 'Spatial Key' telling me where the crimes are. Now, I want to have the officers closer to where the probability of an incident happening is, based on the day of the week and the time of day."
Weloth clicks the mouse again and a rap sheet, complete with a paroled offender’s picture and profile, appears over the crime scene. Officers can use the feature to recognize possible suspects when they arrive at crime scenes.
"We can't be in every place all the time,” says Officer Thomas. “It helps to have the technology to say, ‘Hey why don't you pay attention to this area of the city?’"
Chief Greiner says this new weapon was born of the frustration of knowing crime-solving clues were hiding in filing cabinets.
"It's the wave of the future."
In the near future, Greiner says every Ogden officer will have real-time crime reporting and live video imaging at their fingertips.
The chief is promising dramatic results.
“Our goal is to use this technology to drive crime out of this community.”