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EDITORIALS

Our view: Erie police use data to fight crime

the Editorial Board

It was just a few short years ago when gun violence, much of it retaliatory and factional, spiraled out of control in Erie, a city that is at its heart a big small town.

Young men were dying at steady intervals, sometimes at the hands of those they knew. Families, some of whom had been friends for generations, met on opposites sides of courtrooms.

Law enforcement leaders, including then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Piccinini and Erie County District Attorney Jack Daneri, joined with researchers from Mercyhurst University’s Civic Institute, anti-violence activist Daryl Craig and others to create a multifaceted strategy, Unified Erie, to disrupt the cycle of death and injury. Police used data to identify those involved in networks of violence and held them to account, including by offering offenders resources to seek a productive life off the streets.

Gang-related violence plummeted.

As reporter Tim Hahn detailed, Erie police are seizing a record number of guns, but gun violence is sharply increasing nonetheless. So police are rightly turning again to data-driven methods to strengthen their efforts.

The Erie Bureau of Police plans to hire a trained civilian intelligence analyst with a $149,753 grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. The grant will cover pay, equipment, training, licensing and certification for a year and there is potential for that funding to be extended the following year.

The analyst will study police statistics to identify trends and allow police to respond rapidly and effectively to emerging problems.

The department’s current intelligence officer also shoulders other duties. Having a trained person focused on this analysis and not tasked with duties on the street will be a “game changer,” Police Chief Dan Spizarny said.

That is good news for Erie, especially neighborhoods plagued by gunfire.

As Hahn detailed, as of Thursday, Erie police had responded to 157 shots-fired incidents so far in 2020, significantly more than the 134 shots-fired calls in all of 2019. Of the shots-fired calls this year, 47 have occurred over the past two months and 14 people have been shot, Spizarny told Hahn.

Early in his tenure as chief, Spizarny said he aimed to enhance the department’s use of technology and scientific avenues for investigations. This represents another such advance.

Spizarny and the department deserve credit and gratitude for this and other ways they seek to improve their service to Erie residents. That includes years-long, ongoing efforts to strengthen ties with the community and increase the department’s diversity and transparency. Body cameras that will provide an objective record of police encounters and protect officers and citizens alike are expected to be deployed in October.

“We need to continue working with all our community partners to make Erie a safe city,” Spizarny told Hahn.