Geographic Information Systems for
Small and Medium Law Enforcement Jurisdictions:
Strategies and Effective Practices

Conducted by:
G. David Garson and Irvin B. Vann
The Public Administration Program, NCSU

Sponsored by:
The Governor's Crime Commission
North Carolina Criminal Justice Analysis Center

Michael F. Easley, Governor

Bryan E. Beatty, Secretary
Department of Crime Control and Public Safety

Linda W. Hayes, Chair, Governor's Crime Commission

Donnie Parks, Chair, Drug Control and Substance Abuse Committee

David E. Jones, Executive Director, Governor's Crime Commission

James Klopovic, Lead Evaluator, Governor's Crime Commission

February, 2001

Prepared by:
Dr. G. David Garson
Professor of Public Administration
and Political Science
Public Administration Program, NCSU
Principal Investigator

Irvin B. Vann
Research Director
Public Administration Program
Campus Box 8102
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-8102
Phone (919) 515-3067
Fax (919) 515-7333


Geographic information systems (GIS) are increasingly recognized within the law enforcement community as an effective new tool for the analysis of crime patterns, for the allocation of enforcement resources, and for support of strategic planning by sheriffs or chiefs of police and their staffs. In a recent survey (Mamalian, LaVigne, et al.), the vast majority of police departments stated that crime mapping was a valuable tool, but only 13% had implemented it, mostly in larger jurisdictions. Actual use of GIS has proven illusive for the majority of small and even medium sized law enforcement jurisdictions because of problems associated with software and hardware resources, technical expertise, database management, and other challenges which may be met more easily by large jurisdictions with ample, specialized staffs and resources. The current study, based on extensive interviews with crime mapping staff, supervisors, and end-users both within and outside North Carolina, outlines obstacles, opportunities, and action steps relevant to the implementation of geographic information systems in law enforcement agencies of small to medium size jurisdictions.

The potential of GIS is twofold. First, it is probably the best automation tool to assimilate ever increasing volumes of information. Second, if applied correctly, GIS allows the beat officer to work ahead of the crime and criminal cycle. It is a tool for true prevention. However, neither of these two potentialities will be reached unless GIS is integrated into as many jurisdictions as possible. It is the broader purpose of these strategies and effective practices to assist law enforcement managers in the intelligent and practical proliferation of GIS. The focus is on critical managerial considerations in establishing and implementing GIS rather than on specific technical hardware and software specifications, which will vary by jurisdiction.

Expanded Table of Contents

Note: You may click on a report section to display it.


The purpose of this effective practices booklet is to provide an overview of the GIS implementation process for managers and staff in small to medium size law enforcement jurisdictions. Without specifying or dictating the precise organizational and technical structure needed for implementation, this booklet seeks to establish the general managerial framework for crime mapping at the local level. It is hoped that through it managers will be able to gain a strategic vision of the purposes and administrative dimensions of GIS in law enforcement. Moreover, sections of this manual may be used as an implementation checklist for each stage of the GIS life cycle. Appendices list relevant contacts and resources.

The preface describes how to use this effective practices document as a management checklist to "get going" on establishing GIS for law enforcement.

Development of a public sector capability, especially one like GIS, must be preceded by a thorough exploration of why it should be developed. Studying and documenting the "why" has a two-fold purpose: understanding one's particular needs and, more important, justification of the GIS program itself. A solid needs assessment forces key stakeholders to develop a thorough and detailed statement of objectives and clarification of the target audience to be served by the program. This is basic to effective public service because needs assessment leads to understanding of the quantitative and qualitative aspects of program justification. Program planning and its associated action measures centrally depend on one particular measure of success: development of a permanent funding stream. In the study reported here, the research team inventoried overall benefits of GIS and evidence that GIS is effective in the law enforcement environment. These real returns are meant to suggest a point of departure for defining evaluation measures specific to local jurisdictions.


Twenty-one distinct crime analysis and law enforcement functions are now being implemented by innovative police and public safety jurisdictions across the country. Nearly all jurisdictions surveyed, reported plans to expand the number of functions being implemented. None reported downsizing of GIS, much less abandonment of GIS experiments. The 21 GIS functions are detailed in Chapter 1. Click here to view the implementation frequency chart for these 21 functions.

The North Carolina Governor's Crime Commission and other leaders within the North Carolina law enforcement community must recognize the growing importance of GIS in crime analysis, and must work to sensitize jurisdictions in North Carolina, not only to the overall importance of GIS, but also to the functional choices and opportunities for its employment beyond such initial steps as pin-mapping of crime events.


Desktop applications of GIS enable law enforcement officers to take pin maps off of station house walls and deploy them into the hands of officers at the beat level. When asked, "Do you think that for the investment that you've made in crime mapping has paid off for you?" C. K. Lamm of the Wilson, NC, Police Department said:

"Oh yes, before GIS we had a burglary here, we had a burglary there but with GIS, with the mapping, with the pinpointing, we really know what's going on, and that's really good. I think it's really paid off."

Crime mapping has payoffs not only in discerning crime patterns but also in more efficient resource allocation, more effective community policing, and better strategic planning and accountability.


Small to medium jurisdictions require a scale of implementation which can be successfully supported and maintained. Jurisdictions that are implementing GIS for the first time should not compare themselves to larger jurisdictions that may have complex systems which are not appropriate in small settings. Smaller jurisdictions differ from large ones not only in the scale of operations, but also in the expectations of law enforcement management, the nature of staffing, and in technical support needs. Development of a supportive network of small-jurisdiction crime analysts may be critical for long - term success.


Regionalization may be a means of sharing costs, experience, and expertise among jurisdictions that implement this strategy. Regionalization is also an appropriate response to the high mobility of crime in today's society. North Carolina's networks of regional councils already function as excellent sources of information on interjurisdictional collaboration, grant writing and administration, and technical support based on their existing experience in geographic information systems. Four possible roles for regional councils are outlined in this chapter as starting points for dialog among participants' explorations of regionalization in crime mapping.

The key to successful implementation of GIS in small jurisdictions is leadership agreement on the sequence of steps to be undertaken. A convenient way to think about project development is to imagine the "Life Cycle" of the project. Well before the first map is drawn, municipal leadership must undertake a thorough planning process which entails mutual commitment on project goals, with each responsible party understanding benefits as well as costs or risks. Monetary and resource requirements are best acknowledged up front, paving the way for the pre-implementation stage. Collaborative agreements are established as described later in this section, and duties and responsibilities are defined. Then and only then should the project look to acquiring human, capital, and technical components. This is followed in the next phase by learning to efficiently and effectively operate and manage GIS analysis operations.

An explicit evaluation effort should supplement daily oversight, providing evidence in support of long-term justification of the GIS project. When daily operation begins and the all-important permanent budget is in place, the project enters the stabilization phase of the life cycle. Here leadership and line staff go beyond initial demonstration uses of crime mapping to more systematically specify the municipal - wide need for GIS. Needs analysis determines how the project must penetrate horizontally (to increase the range of GIS functions) and vertically (to increase the targeted users of GIS). It is with this final stage that the true impact of GIS will be evident in terms of benefit to the community. The recommendations contained in this section's chapters arise from practical application in the field as articulated by crime mapping practitioners. While any local application will be unique, a managerial strategy for GIS implementation in law enforcement is best undertaken in the light of awareness of the logical sequence suggested by the project life cycle described in this section.


For small to medium jurisdictions, start-up strategies begin with needs assessment and proceed to financial planning for grants and long - term local funding, as in the case of the city of Winston-Salem that provided a capital improvement plan (CIP) to build a sufficient GIS infrastructure. Not only planning for adequate hardware, but planning for intra- and interagency collaboration around data management issues must be addressed from the start.


In GIS implementation (determining which data to track and how the data are categorized) interagency cooperation can be an opportunity to improve information integration at the local level. While some communities may despair at problems associated with the interconnectedness of GIS in law enforcement with issues in other arenas, others may take this as an opportunity to improve community planning for the benefit of all. Interagency coordinating groups have been effective in a variety of communities.


The effectiveness of GIS in law enforcement ultimately depends not on hardware and software but on having well-trained analysts. Training for GIS is not analogous to training for use of word processing or spreadsheets. Rather, initial training in software must be combined with broad exposure to the application of that software to crime analysis. Moreover, training is an ongoing need as the techniques of GIS, as applied to law enforcement, evolve in new more sophisticated ways. Also, training cannot be reduced to technical manuals and videotapes. Actual interaction with colleagues in the field at conferences or site visits plays a critical role. Narrow concepts of training must be extended in the case of crime mapping to promotion of professional sharing and networking.


It was apparent in our interviews that North Carolina crime mapping professionals have much to share. At the same time there is a widespread need for technical support. There is a need for online mailing lists, conferences, and publications to promote information sharing and mutual support among law enforcement GIS staff over and beyond the present network of support available from both national and North Carolina resources, which are listed in Appendix B.


Though the benefits of using GIS in crime analysis units have yet to be quantified in terms of dollars, there is ample evidence to indicate that using the technology increases both efficiency and effectiveness of police services to communities. Efficiency gains are evident when departments can reduce the amount of time for administrative tasks such as redistricting police sectors. Effectiveness gains are evident when police allocate resources to fit where crime is actually happening based on GIS data. When the police are more effective, the public benefits from their investment in GIS technology for crime analysis.



The planning phase of GIS implementation requires involving key law enforcement leadership in crime mapping efforts, identifying the problems to be addressed, developing partnerships with cooperating agencies, conducting a needs analysis, establishing a leadership board, and arranging permanent funding. The start-up stage involves hiring staff, acquiring hardware and software, and coming to cooperative agreements. The operational stage involves committing to compatibility with one's municipal GIS infrastructure, training staff, and implementing basic functions such as pin-mapping. The stabilization stage involves integrating incident reporting with other agency databases to produce overlays, and training management, end users, and staff. The expansion stage involves making needs assessment ongoing, developing an expanded resource base, and developing broader support networks.


Establishing an effective GIS operation in a small to medium law enforcement jurisdiction follows a certain predictable life cycle which has associated do's and don'ts. Most of the "Do's" presented in this chapter may be considered critical go/no go items which must be present if the local GIS effort is to prove effective. This summary chapter presents, in checklist form the action considerations related to GIS implementation as discussed in previous sections of this report.


Crime mapping promises to help make North Carolina communities better places in which to live. The contributions of crime mapping include better allocation of law enforcement resources, better anticipation of crime patterns, closure of more criminal cases, more inter - agency and inter - jurisdictional cooperation, ability to assimilate volumes of information, and more effective involvement of communities in the mission of law enforcement.


Appendix A. List of Interviewees, 70
Appendix B. Resource Checklist, 73
Appendix C: Bibliography, 79
Appendix D: GIS Implementation Readiness Self-Assessment, 82
Appendix E. Technical Specifications, 87
Appendix F: Endnotes, 89