Data Makes a Difference: Analytics in Public Safety

“Time is essential." These are the words of Adriana Nunes, a technical coordinator at Disque Denúncia, one of the most respected public safety services in Rio de Janeiro.

In this day and age, Adriana’s words are sure to ring true for all of us. But they probably echo a bit longer—and more loudly—if you work in the field of public safety.

When it comes to public safety services, resource allocation can be a matter of life and death. By getting the right information at the right time, organizations can dramatically improve their impact.

Disque Denúncia collects anonymous information about local crime through their high-volume call center. They've been using Tableau to visualize how criminals move throughout the city—and sharing that information with local police departments to plan increased patrols in areas of criminal activity. Says Adriana, "it enabled even a larger police force on those locations."

The Institute for the Study of Violent Groups (ISVG) is another public service that has used Tableau to improve resource allocation. ISVG is an open-source research center at the University of New Haven, responsible for studying violent extremism and transnational crime. They hire students to perform massive amounts of data collection for clients like the U.S. Department of Defense. We interviewed John Hitzeman of ISVG.

As John recounts, Tableau enabled them to train many of their students (a team of about 100!) to do analysis themselves. Where previously they had focused entirely on information collection, now they can use that data to inform the organization's research as well. “It has essentially changed my mission in the organization from getting people data to getting people educated," says John. Now they can focus more on information, awareness, and understanding—and less on manual data collection.

We're inspired by public-safety services like Disque Denúncia and ISVG. After all, data is pretty cool, but it's what people do with that data that makes a real difference. By gaining more insight into the way they use resources, these organizations have both been able to serve more people—and quickly.

Want to learn more? Check out John's full interview, or read the English translation of Adriana's interview (a Portuguese-language video is also available there). In addition, USA Today reported on ISVG's work with data in an article from 2013.

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