Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Woodlands Watch community meeting

Each month, a meeting has been scheduled for a new program to inform residents on security measures. It is intended to provide insight on how best to protect your home, possessions and self in this community. Today, the series of meetings was kicked off with a huge crowd of interested persons. It appeared inside and out that everyone was attending. The conference room where the meeting was held had standing room only space. Parking was difficult to find at the last moment.

Today, residents got an opportunity to meet a representative from both counties - Harris and Montgomery. Ronnie Glaze from the Harris County Sheriff's office alongside of Sgt. Jason Moore and Capt. Andy Moore of the Montgomery Sheriff's office were introduced and fielded residents' questions on law enforcement in The Woodlands.

Of interest to the community and items discussed are bulleted below:
+ Non-emergency number: (see end of article). Neither of these two numbers will be charged as long distance to the residents of The Woodlands. There is another non-emergency number for residents of Montgomery county where long distance fees could be levied by your provider. The numbers go directly to the dispatcher who will dispatch an available law enforcer in your policing zone to the scene. Be sure you give as much information as you can provide to the dispatcher. 911: Some calls may not have location data automatically provided to the dispatcher. When calling from a recently acquired cell phone, the location is provided, but it may not be very accurate, perhaps 200 feet from your position. Older cell phones may not have any location data attached to the call.  Ask your provider what your situation is. Know your phone. Home phones generally have an associated map location; an officer assigned to and operating on your beat will be dispatched. Internet phones does carry your address in the call. It is required in order for the service provider to initiate the call to 911. This applies to all 911 emergency calls. Apparently, local E-9-1-1 service is going into phase 3 for enhanced services. That will make more information available to the dispatcher from more service providers for the area.

A tax is added to the bill. That money goes to the local 911 provider, which in our case is the Sheriff dispatch of both counties, for the development and operation of 911 basic services and E-911 services when that is supported.  Thanks to one resident who showed me what Magic Jack and Vonage sends to the 911 recipient when they forward a 911 call to the local dispatcher. It sends the complete mail address which is displayed on the dispatcher's console. Coordinates don't appear to be sent. The address is set in the computer per user programming. Cable companies which provide telephony can also provide the address, but they did not have continuous service in Ike, making them questionable for effective 911 service.  I looked at Sprint cellular service, and we pay a small tax for the 911 dispatch operation. I am not sure exactly how the GPS coordinates get to the dispatcher or how that information is captured by the dispatcher.
  

+ The reason not all crimes are reported through the Woodlands Alert system is to follow the rules and regulations imposed by the legislature and to release pertinent information that will alert residents to imminent safety issues.  Every victim has certain confidentiality rights. Each communication must be managed by the legal staff of the county and every release of information must be channeled through the Public Information Officers of the county.  Township employees respond as quick as they can to inform the public of any imminent danger or high profile crime in their neighborhood. No information is held back from residents. However, the Sheriff and staff will only release what the Public Information Officer will release, according to responsible persons in the Township. It would be impossible to release information of all 36000 calls last year, so only certain types of calls are reported in detail back to the community. The Township asks that residents be patient. You can have several law enforcement vehicles next door to you, and the officers cannot divulge the circumstances. Each victim undergoes a certain amount of trauma, and our enforcement officers are bound and committed to keep their circumstances quiet until that victim is considered ready for them to release information. The victim's rights come first. If there is imminent danger, information will be released in a timely manner.  

+ The Sheriff's office has began a process to communicate back to the community on the disposition of an arrest. We can expect to see more feedback of  arrests after the crime is committed in our area.   

+ There were 497 alarm calls this past month. This is not money wasted. It brings a patrol car to the resident address and therefore provides visibility and presence in a neighborhood that may not have recently had a law enforcement vehicle present lately.  Response goal is to service the call within 5 minutes, but there are sometimes factors affecting that response such as a major crime or a weather induced rash of alarms.  Normally in a major crime, the Public Information Officer is dispatched to the scene in order to quickly provide information to the public.

+ Boundaries of the "beat zones" are being changed to align closer to village boundaries, per request of the Township. 

+ It has been said that crime is on the increase in The Woodlands. Just a point that needs to be clarified - much of the crime here is by residents in The Woodlands, not outside. The number of calls increase according to the increase in residents and the number of eyes watching for crime. Our officers are seeing more due to their numbers. These numbers will continue to rise as we hire more officers and deploy our new "beat" system.  3000 service calls is partly a result of the additional officers who can issue a "call of service" based on an observation while patrolling.

+ Community policing is being changed here. For those who do not understand what "community policing" is, the officers at the meeting explained it. Community policing is a partnership as a team between the policing agency and the community to prevent, identify and collect information about a crime. Watching for anomalies, the community reports what it sees and seeks to discourage crime and decrease vulnerability to a crime. This is what this program is targeted to do. It was said, "no suspicious observation is too small to report." Next month, we will receive a presentation on door locks - what can we do to secure our homes better.

Commentary

This was a healthy meeting. Residents are generally interested in awareness of crime in their community and wish to see improvements. Communication has long been an issue among residents. It is time to plan a well-organized reach-out program that will bring the beat cops and the residents together. It is my opinion that the plan should be put together now. Define when the staffing level can be reached and execute this organized plan by a schedule.

The villages need to see and begin to know their beat cops this summer, earlier if possible. We have put this off  far too long now. We have provided the money, the will and the guidance to go forward with this concept. Now, let's get it done. Our community is waiting for instructions and next steps. There remain 11 deputies to hire to complete the staffing plan. If you have not read the plan and monthly report, it would be a good idea to review the statistics and planned change of zones. The change will occur this summer. I hope that we can execute the beat cop method with the deployment of the new zones instead of having to wait indefinitely like we did the last time. The way we measure that is simple - do we know who our beat cops are and have we met them? If "yes" to both questions, then we should have our new system in place. It will be refinements after that. We should be able to talk to our beat cop about neighborhood issues and observations. 

Fortunately, our community is heading into another initiative that will also help this process. The village associations of The Woodlands will provide a representative to the Township forming The Woodlands Law Enforcement Advisory Council. I am on that committee and will be representing Indian Springs residents.  For that to happen, I will be seeking the input of residents in every communication method that I can come put together. You do not need to be in the Indian Springs Village to discuss this with me, but your representative should be able to field your issues. 

In regard to law enforcement communication to the public, we need to have a state-of-the-art means for citizens of this community to statistically know crime in our area. Pearland, Sugarland, Houston and countless other cities are using GIS (Geographical Information Systems) to help their citizens understand the space distribution and proximity of crime to their homes. The Woodlands Township has a GIS budget allocation, but I have not seen a detailed plan yet.I have been told that law enforcement reporting is not part of that plan (yet). Money has not been allocated  for that particular use. Let's not have just an internal GIS for the Township staff, let's have a community or "enterprise" GIS for communication of emergency services and crimes, similar to other communities. It could have a huge payback. My intuition says that the service would pay for itself in no time.  I am unconvinced that we need as many policemen as we are putting into place; one reason is that we have no means to gauge its effectiveness. Too many is better than not enough say some. That costs us extra money. What is the cost effective number? We need some easily understood, pertinent and timely information in the hands of the residents to make sure the residents have the tools to be comforted or concerned about the effectiveness of enforcement here. The GIS method is utilized in many places, because it is a cost effective means of communicating to the public.  I have personally worked to deploy these systems in a large corporate setting, domestically and internationally. Map-based analytical tools are an enabler to efficiencies.

If you want to see the uses of a GIS in an enterprise deployment, please refer to the ESRI GIS publication which describes how Sugarland uses theirs (authored by the Sugarland GIS deployment coordinator)
GIS Enterprise used in Sugarland, Texas 

You might also want to see Pearland's crime data in a map format using Google maps.
Pearland Crime Reports

I promised you some telephone numbers:
1. Montgomery County Sheriff non-emergency number (recommended): 936-442-7797.
2. Harris County Sheriff non-emergency number (recommended): unknown at the time of publishing. Come back for update.This is the published number on the Harris County website - 713-221-6000

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