Crime

Bellingham police to get software to map crime patterns

Bellingham is buying predictive policing software that will map crime patterns in the city and help officers decide where to patrol. The software, by Blair Analytics, will essentially replace the Bellingham Police Department’s current crime analyst.
Bellingham is buying predictive policing software that will map crime patterns in the city and help officers decide where to patrol. The software, by Blair Analytics, will essentially replace the Bellingham Police Department’s current crime analyst. The Bellingham Herald

The police department plans to buy predictive policing software that will map crime patterns in the city and help officers decide where to patrol.

The software, by Bair Analytics, will help compile reports currently put together by the department’s current crime analyst, who plans to retire in just more than a month, said Lt. Bob Vander Yacht, police spokesman. Whoever replaces her will get to use the new tool.

“We’re not happy the person is leaving, she does a great job,” Vander Yacht said. “But we’re also happy to look at new, more efficient ways to gather the same information.”

People can comment on the plan to buy Bair Analytics software during the regular Bellingham City Council meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 10, at City Hall, 210 Lottie St.

The public hearing Monday is required as a term of accepting the $21,213 Bureau of Justice Assistance grant.

Officers currently use similarly compiled crime information to help detect criminal patterns and choose where they should focus their efforts.

For example, if a series of home break-ins has been reported in a specific neighborhood, and officers see that similar methods were used to get into the homes, they start looking at what days and times those crimes happened to try to prevent another or catch the criminal in the act, Vander Yacht said.

“A few years back we had a long series of rooftop burglaries and it took a while to catch the guys that were doing it,” Vander Yacht said. “We had to figure out the best times and places for them to do that.”

Because there were some days of the week the rooftop break-ins never happened, the department was able to selectively put extra officers out on surveillance during narrower time windows and eventually catch the thieves, he said.

The software also allows interested citizens to sign up for alerts and view an interactive map of criminal activity in their area. The information included on the map is somewhat limited to protect the privacy of victims.

The map, which can be found at raidsonline.com, currently shows information for 15 Washington cities, including Seattle, Richland and Pasco. RAIDS stands for Regional Analysis and Information Data Sharing.

The program is different from Intrado Beware, which the department had planned to purchase with similar grant funding last year before citizens concerned about its address-by-address information spoke out against the purchase. Some people were concerned about that software as it would have assigned a threat level to specific addresses or names, and could have quickly provided officers with public information that could be found by searching the Internet and social media sites.

In response to the outcry, City Council asked the department to use the money for something else.

“That software looked at addresses and people,” Vander Yacht said. “This software looks at incidents, so it’s really not doing anything different than we already do. We already have crime analysis personnel that look at crimes, where they occur, the frequency of their occurrence, days and times. We’re always looking for patterns of crime.”

The status of the crime analyst position in the department was corrected Aug. 6, 2015.

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-715-2274 or samantha.wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com. Read the Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog and follow her on Twitter at @BhamPolitics.

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