Calling this GIS to order: PD seeks concerns from those online

Melisa Soysal
Melisa Soysal/THE REVIEW
The Newark Police Department has begun using interactive mapping software where locals can go online to document the problems that affect them personally.


For exactly two minutes, John Morgan spoke about his personal traffic concerns in the Newark area. Morgan, a professor at the university, addressed the issue of college students biking irresponsibly.

His concerns were documented and, presumably, taken into account on Newark’s most recent city council meeting. Although citizens like Morgan can come to public meetings or call to discuss their concerns, there are still many who don’t.

To combat this, the Newark Police Department has begun using interactive mapping software, where locals can go online to document the problems that affect them personally.

On Aug. 23, the Newark Police Department announced an experimental launch of what they refer to as a crowd-sourced mapping initiative intended to document traffic concerns throughout the city.

The department is utilizing a mapping application called ArcGIS. Geographical information system (GIS) software allows users to create and interact with a variety of maps and data sources.

The police department collected data from the mapping initiative, and the results show exactly where patrol officers plan to increase surveillance.

Eighty-one members of the community expressed concern regarding a pedestrian problem at the intersection between North and South Green. This crossing area is already equipped with an officer to control traffic at peak hours during weekdays.

The top concerns are considered to be within central Newark and are generally low-surveillance.

James Spadola, spokesman for the Newark Police Department, launched the initiative after being trained how to use the software.

“We were able to parse through the data, and based on the complaints, we put that out to the patrol officers and the traffic officers,” Spadola said. “They did some direct enforcement there and wrote a few tickets.”

The police department only kept the mapping initiative live for a week, but they plan on reopening it to document other concerns in the near future. Spadola said that people can always call in and request that the police department documents their concerns.

Victor Perez, assistant professor of sociology at the university, has interest in and knowledge of the crowdsourcing of local information. He utilizes crowdsourcing in his research, particularly in the Wilmington area.

Perez said he believes that the police department’s use of the term crowdsourcing is a misnomer. He defines the process as a way to collect a diversity of opinions regarding an issue, with the goal of coming to a conclusion on community sentiment of a single issue.

As for the police department’s mapping initiative, Perez has another term for it.

“That’s hot-spot policing,” Perez said.

Historically, hot-spot policing invites increased surveillance to minimally-surveilled communities, creating hyper-intensive areas of patrol and pushing the problem outward. There are also privacy and confidentiality issues, Perez said.

“Crowdsourcing, just like anything else, has the potential to mean something it’s not originally intended to,” Perez said.

He provided alternative terminology, calling the police department’s initiative a virtual town hall.

Spadola said he had two primary goals when beginning the mapping initiative. The first was to display the police department in an innovative light, and the second was to provide an avenue to document complaints and concerns that the younger generation might be more likely to utilize.

“You’re dealing with violations of the law that were perhaps going unnoticed before or were problems for the residents that are now on the map, pun intended,” Spadola said.

Andrew Falker from Philadelphia is the Newark Police Department’s ArcGIS account manager. The police department was the first to use the application to benefit law enforcement goals.

According to Falker, GIS software is most commonly utilized for pothole reporting and locating mosquito breeding regions. However, he said that he thinks there will be a new trend of police departments all over utilizing mapping software.

“It’s good for transparency and creating trust between police and constituents,” Falker said.

Falker and Spadola agreed that a web- and mobile-based platform is more widely inclusive across demographics, especially throughout age groups. However, online platforms tend to exclude certain groups of people, depending on their access to certain resources.

“I think that it actually reinforces differential access to internet technology,” Perez said.

Crowdsourcing, along with other interactive mediums based online, rests on the assumption that every necessary participant has the time, money and resources required to access the internet.

Morgan, a Newark citizen for over 35 years, has the time and ability to attend public meetings and address issues that affect him. However, many people throughout Newark are not able or willing to do so. Because of this, it is crucial to find a more inclusive way to address the problems of the public.

There are questions about whether online mapping is the most effective way to do so.

“Some have the internet, the time, the input to do it,” Perez said. “At a certain point, it surmises an approach to move forward.”

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