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GIS: The New Sherlock Holmes

April 12 2017 - by Rohan A. Richards, Principal Director, National Spatial Data Management Division, Jamaica CLDN Chapter

National and global security are areas of concern that resonate in development policies and programmes, including Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, otherwise known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 16 of 17 SDGs speaks to promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development. ‘Security and safety’ is a major development concern for the Jamaican society as well as most countries in the Caribbean. Current trends in the incidence of crime and violence in Jamaica as well as the resulting levels of insecurity and fear of crime have been identified as major contributors to the low levels of economic growth and threats to the achievement of inclusive development goals.[1] 

By 2030, it is estimated that almost sixty per cent of the world’s population will be urbanized. In many urban areas, high rates of crime and violence are undermining growth and impeding social development, particularly affecting the poor.[2]  Indeed, a joint report by the by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Latin America and the Caribbean Region of the World Bank indicated that high rates of crime and violence in the Caribbean are undermining growth, threatening human welfare, and impeding social development.[3]  The report further suggests that reducing the homicide rate in the Caribbean by one third could more than double the region's rate of per capita economic growth. The truth is, crime is a major obstacle to investment and impacts legitimate businesses and the society on a whole in a negative way, whether through excess expenditure on security measures, decline in worker productivity or disruption of family life in general.

Goal number 2 of the Vision 2030 Jamaica National Development Plan speaks to the Jamaican society being secure, cohesive and just and also speaks to a target of 43 per 100,000 for major crimes and 10 per 100,000 for murders by 2030. As at 2015, the murder rate remains of 42 per 100,000.[4]  Given the pervasive nature of crime and violence, we have to use innovative methods to address the issue of crime and its attendant challenges.

In an era when crime is becoming more and more technologically intensive, there are clearly serious technology needs in the law enforcement community.

GIS and a Crime Fighting Tool

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) applications are critical to the technological development and planning process of any country in the 21st century.  GIS is a cross cutting subject that can be used to achieve a country’s strategic objectives and the region’s overall goal of economic growth.

Aside from improving the sustainable management of the region’s natural resources, GIS as a tool, can be used to address major national security and public safety challenges. Geospatial tools offer the capability of monitoring, predicting and countering threats while helping to strategize and support field operations. The use of advanced spatial analytical tools and advanced imaging technologies enables the continuous flow of data between intelligence, law enforcement agencies and security companies in pre, real time and post operations. Satellite images for example can also display important information about criminal activities.

Our experience has shown that GIS is a necessary tool for crime mapping. Crime mapping is a key component of crime analysis. The efficiency and the speed of the GIS analysis increase the capabilities of crime fighting. Jamaica’s Ministry of National Security has utilized crime mapping with the recent upgrade of their Crime Observatory which aims to improve the information available to security officials. The location of reported criminal offences was mapped and a database established to automate the assigning of spatial reference to future incidents. The mapped data will act as a baseline from which incidents that have been reported would be mapped and heat maps created to show the concentration of these offences. These tools should enable the Ministry and the police to establish patterns and garner statistical information in a spatial context, thereby allowing for informed and systematic intervention.

Geospatial datasets assist in crime fighting by determining communication routes by land, sea and air as well as determining population density, distribution and structure. By incorporating traditional law enforcement data with data such as demographics, infrastructure, and offender tracking, we can use GIS to transform information into actionable intelligence.

  • How has your own country been utilizing technology such as GIS to address issues related to crime and public safety?
  • Is there space in the ideal society for us to reduce hard policing and start using modern technology to fight crime?
  • What leadership challenges do you foresee with the widespread adoption of innovative technologies such as GIS to address issues related to public safety?


[1] Planning Institute of Jamaica 2015. Vision 2030 Jamaica – National development plan: medium term socio-economic policy framework 2015 – 2018, pg 115.

[2] UNODC and the Sustainable Development Goals []

[3] UNODC & World Bank (May 2007) Crime, Violence, and Development: Trends, Costs, and Policy Options in the Caribbean. Report No. 37820.

[4] Planning Institute of Jamaica 2009. Vision 2030: Jamaica National Development Plan, pg 110

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Sherwin Bruce - Reply

As we develop we must realize that technology in and of itself cannot be the solution. But we must move past our need for power by operating in 'silos' forgeting that we all have the same goals of a peaceful and fair society. The input from diverse security agencies both public and private must be allowed to feed into the information database and a path developed for resources of willing citizens to be of the network