Cops, collection agencies turn to data analytics

Some state and local agencies are turning to business analytics software to help fight crime and collect taxes and other payments.

Some cash-strapped state and local government agencies are seizing on business intelligence software for data analytics as a way to do more with less.

Agencies are increasing their use of these automated tools to cull through and analyze data for a variety of purposes, but two of the more prominent are law enforcement and revenue collection, as each is a primary responsibility for state and local governments.

Chris Dixon, manager of state and local industry analysis for market research firm Input, said law enforcement officials were using the technology to make policing efforts more intelligent even before the economic crisis. “On the law enforcement side I think that we are seeing a genuine transformational change in the nature of how policing is orchestrated at the strategic level within a community,” he said.

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Meanwhile, state and local governments' use of analytics tools to look for fraud and abuse related to payment and benefits programs appears to be more directly driven by the economic crisis. “Right now it looks like more of cyclically-driven interest because of the desperation of the budget offices to get a grip on things,” he said.

Dixon estimates the annual state and local government market for such products to be about $750 million.

Next: To catch a thief

Roanoke Valley in Virginia includes several police jurisdictions: the cities of Roanoke and Salem, the county of Roanoke, and the town of Vinton. The region's total population is about 213,000. Criminals move in and out of the different cities and traditionally it’s been a challenge for police to coordinate their law enforcement efforts.

"We were forever calling each other asking questions: ‘Do you know anything about such and so? Or do you have any burglaries with this kind of" modus operandi, said Capt. Greg Staples from the Roanoke City Police Department.

If an officer stopped somebody and wanted to check if that person was wanted in the area, an officer would have to make separate phone calls to each of the other three agencies to check, Staples recalled.

Staples said those difficulties spurred the region to create the Roanoke Area Criminal Justice Information Network (RACJIN), a multi-jurisdictional computer network that links law enforcement agencies in the region. Even though the RACJIN only recently came online, Staples said officials are already seeing the benefits.

“Immediately we not only arrested a drug dealer we might not otherwise have, but we did  very quickly because the RACJIN told us who he was,” Staples, who is the law enforcement project manager for the RACJIN system, said. Being able to search all four agencies' computer-aided dispatch data "makes the number of records we can search just exponentially higher,” he said.

The RACJIN uses software from Memex, Inc., a SAS company, to allow users to search the departments’ record management system as well as their computer-aided dispatch systems, perform link analysis and make use of geographic information system mapping.

The Roanoke area isn’t alone in seeing the value in using data analytics, said Neil Schlisserman, vice president of Americas for Memex. “Last year within the U.S., our business grew roughly 70 percent from 2008 over into 2009, and this year we are again expecting that we will be growing,” Schlisserman said.

Next: Tax cheats beware

Few entities have been hit harder by the economic crisis than city and county governments, and the rough economic times have raised the stakes for collecting money owed by tax cheats.

“You’ve got to remember, if your neighbor is cheating, you’re paying more and that money could add up to a school teacher or keeping a park open an extra day or [paying] a firefighter,” said Ron Cacciatore, director of professional standards and compliance with the Broward County, Fla.’s property appraiser’s office.

Cacciatore recently participated in a pilot program with a new LexisNexis product that’s designed to help state and local governments track down people who are improperly taking advantage of tax exemptions that homeowners can get from states for their primary residence. The programs are often called homestead exemptions. There are also exemptions for the elderly.

Some people cheat the system by claiming an exemption for a home that isn’t their primary residence or not informing authorities about a death. Such cheaters cost states and localities millions of dollars, but catching them can involve a difficult, laborious process. Investigators need to cull through returned mail, utility bills and death records.

Andy Bucholz, director of tax and revenue market planning for LexisNexis’ government group, said he wanted to create a tool to use a computer program to help jurisdictions such as Broward County identify “red flags” among its exemption claims so it could more readily conduct audits with limited staff.

Bucholz said he worked with Cacciatore and his team to test the new tool on 8,900 homestead exemption records for Hallandale Beach, Fla. According to Cacciatore’s office, the pilot found more than $1.2 million in back taxes and 43 death cases.

Bucholz said the program, which has been piloted in other jurisdictions as well, is consistently identifying 5 percent of exemption lists as fraudulent because the claimant has illegally claimed more than one homestead exemption or didn’t report a death.

There could be a lot of money in this for jurisdictions such as Broward County. Cacciatore points out that in Florida law provides for big fines in these cases: 50 percent penalties and 15 percent interest rates.

“The automated program really worked out well,” Cacciatore said of the pilot. “It makes it easier when you target a city like that instead of waiting for hotline callers.”