SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) – From a nondescript store-front office in Salt Lake City’s Sugarhouse District a battle is being waged, for your neighborhood.
The warrior – a tiny start-up company called CrimeReports. The weapon – a new computer software.
The first virtual shot in this battle was fired two years ago when a tiny start-up company called CrimeReports went online with a website designed to collect crime data from law enforcement agencies and share the information with the public. Anyone anywhere could see day-by-day updates on crimes in those cities. Markers on web pages that look like Google or MapQuest maps show where crimes happen, what types of crimes are happening, even what time they happened. Suddenly, average citizens had the same information police officers get when they report for duty at the beginning of their shifts and decide where they’ll patrol and what they should expect.
CrimeReports was born of frustration over an incident that happened about six years ago. Greg Whisenant was on his way home to his Washington, D.C. apartment when, as he entered the building, someone followed him. Whisenant held the door for the man, unaware the intruder would burglarize several homes in the building. Police questioned Whisenant when they watched security video and saw him unwittingly assist the intruder. Cops told him he should have known better than to let a stranger into his building because the neighborhood had been hit by a rash of burglaries.
How would he have known? That question bothered Whisenant until two years ago, when he answered it by opening his company. Since then, more than 500 cities and counties across the nation have signed up for the service. Utah was the first state to subscribe.
“Knowledge is power,” proclaimed Utah’s Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, when he announced the partnership with CrimeReports. ”Citizens have the right to know, to participate, to inform law enforcement (about) what’s going on in their communities.”
For Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder the technology was a breakthrough.
“We literally struggled with this functionality for ten years and in the blink of an eye they were able to plug in a third party private software solution into our existing records management system and go live in two days,” he told the entire state of Utah in a televised news conference.
CrimeReports President Ken Myers says most law enforcement commanders seem to agree with the Sheriff’s assessment of the technology.
"Police agencies have always had this information,” says Myers, and they want people to help them but they don’t have a really good way to publish that.”
Walk in the CrimeReports office and the second thing you notice – the first is a basketball arcade game like those you see at a carnivals – is a handful of sales reps, talking on phones, performing web demos on their desktop computers, and signing up new clients almost by the hour.
“In the last two weeks, I think we’ve probably signed about 25, maybe 30 agencies on a pretty rapid basis,” says Ryan Larsen, Northeast U.S. Region Sales Rep, as he watches a computerized map of Boston light up with markers that show crimes happening in that city. Boston, along with Baltimore and Buffalo go live on-line on this day. Twenty more cities and counties will go live within the next few days.
The people who run CrimeReports say this is only the beginning. There are about 18,000 other municipalities that have yet to sign up. Most of them are rural towns that never will, say company execs. And despite its early growth, the company hasn’t turned a profit yet. That’s expected to happen by the end of 2009.
And then there are the two new products about to hit the market. One is an analytical software that allows police to see trends and better predict crime sprees. The other, a virtual “neighborhood watch” program designed to allow citizens to immediately alert police of crimes in their neighborhoods, effectively giving officers eyes and ears where they’ve never had them before.