Pictometry® Imagery in Public Safety: Finding Missing Persons and Keeping Officers SafeApril 13, 2017
One city police department was already using Pictometry® imagery from EagleView® when their crime analyst joined the team. By including the imagery in her workflow, the crime analyst raised awareness for Pictometry imagery in the department and demonstrated its value in the public safety sphere. She has used Pictometry imagery to gather intelligence, keep officers safe during critical missions, and even solve a missing persons case within mere hours of a child’s disappearance.
Gathering intelligence for critical missions with the use of Pictometry imagery
The department uses Pictometry imagery to analyze incidents and solve difficult cases. Pictometry imagery complements the use of statistics, charts, graphs, and maps for investigative work, so the department can better understand activity within the city and identify the patterns and trends of incidents.
One common use of Pictometry imagery, the department’s crime analyst explained, is in prepping for a warrant or a SWAT team raid. She relays location hazards and information to officers before they enter the field.
Prior to a raid, she said, “It’s important to get good pictures of every side of a building, such as the back yard, or a deck, or the side of the door the handle is on.”
Although she sometimes uses online street maps and interior photographs from real estate websites, Pictometry imagery fills in the gaps for such sensitive missions. “Pictometry imagery applications are definitely where I go for good imagery – specifically when we’re doing SWAT warrants, where it’s really important to know what the surroundings of a building look like and how they’ve changed over time,” she said.
Blending social media and Pictometry imagery to find a missing child
The police department couldn’t have solved one particular case so quickly, the crime analyst explained, without Pictometry imagery.
“We got a call that a boy had been taken by a relative who was not allowed contact with the kid,” she said. “She had taken him the night before, and the dad didn’t know where he was.”
The father suspected the boy had been taken to a nearby city. He also linked investigators to the boy’s social media accounts, so they could keep an eye out for any clues as to his whereabouts.
With that information, the crime analyst said, the police department was in luck: “It just so happened that the next morning the boy posted a video to Instagram looking out the window of wherever he was at the time.”
The short video showed a window with a screen in front of it. The analyst could see cars on the street but was unable to read the license plates because of the screen. She did, however, recognize a bank branch across the street.
The crime analyst got to work immediately. “I went to the bank’s website and looked up branch locations, starting in the city where the dad thought the boy might have been taken to,” she said. She cross-referenced the locations with online maps with aerial and street views.
But those maps, she said, didn’t offer the right perspective. “I was just going off the color of the roof, this one tree, a parking lot to one side, and the drive-up bank on the other side,” she said. “Google Maps showed an overhead view, but looking at colors and at trees in different spaces, all the banks started to look the same.”
Then the analyst remembered the resource she had at her disposal: Pictometry imagery.
“I said, ‘I’ll try Pictometry imagery and see if that’s any better,’” she said, “and it did turn out to be a lot better. The colors were a lot clearer, and I could eliminate different trees and features over time.”
She began typing the addresses directly into Pictometry, realizing that she no longer needed street-view imagery. “I had good enough imagery from Pictometry,” she said. “I typed every one of these addresses in there, and eventually I found the exact one.”
Overall, she had researched about 60 or 70 different branches for that bank. With the speed of Pictometry imagery, she was able to search through those locations within about 20 to 25 minutes. Once she confirmed the location – an apartment building across the street – she alerted others in her department to dispatch the officers.
Shortly thereafter, the detectives were able to locate the boy and the person who had taken him. She estimated that just two hours had passed from the time the boy posted the video to the time the officers found him.
The video and bank location outside gave the department a lead, the crime analyst said, but she credited Pictometry imagery and software with expediting the process. “The software is quick enough where you can just run through [the addresses] one-by-one,” she said.
Spreading awareness for Pictometry imagery at the enterprise level
When the crime analyst joined the police department, the city had already been using Pictometry imagery. She employs a number of tools and technologies in her work for one big reason: they get results. Innovations like Pictometry imagery, she said, make police work more efficient.
Today, awareness for Pictometry imagery and data is spreading beyond the police department. The city just started its own GIS user group and promotes the technology to law enforcement and other departments. “We just assigned someone to be the GIS Coordinator for the city, and one of their goals is to include Pictometry in the enterprise GIS for squad cars,” the crime analyst explained.
She’s not surprised that awareness and usage have expanded so rapidly, and she’s happy with the results she gets from Pictometry imagery. “It’s done everything I’ve needed it to do,” she concluded.