The Cheshire Police Department introduced a new online tool at the Sept. 13 Town Council meeting that, it is hoped, will provide the public additional transparency into crimes in their community, as well as deployment and use of police resources.
Although much of what the police department does is already public record, “there is other information available on this website that will give the public a lot of information about what the (PD) does,” said Cheshire Chief of Police Neil Dryfe.
Brian Elionfante, a former Meriden police captain, who now works with both Cheshire PD and the Cheshire Fire Department as a Public Safety Network Administrator, played a major role in bringing the “data dashboard” to fruition.
As part of the Town Manager’s goals and objectives, the Cheshire PD was tasked with “creating a dashboard where citizens can access data about the police department and different types of calls and offenses,” Elionfante explained to the Council.
“Being transparent is a big thing in law enforcement right now,” Dryfe emphasized. “Letting people know what we’re doing to the extent that we can, while protecting victims and other confidential information … this is our effort at meeting that goal.”
According to Dryfe, some other Connecticut towns, including Southington and Glastonbury, have developed similar tools. Providing access to available police data is part of a statewide drive to increase public knowledge of law enforcement’s efforts on behalf of residents.
The dashboard, which the Department plans to have ready for the public this week, will be accessible through a link on the police website. The plan is to have the page automatically refreshed with new data every morning.
“I would encourage members of the public, if they’re interested, to go on the site and play around with it. If they have any questions, they can give us a call and we can walk through it,” Dryfe said.
During his presentation to the Council, Elionfante showed how police communication data gets “broken down into six pages” including “calls for service, offenses, crime trends, the police blotter, stolen vehicle list, and stolen vehicle trends.”
Calls for service encompass most of what a police department does, from animal rescue to vehicle theft.
“The number-one call that the police department engages in every year is what we call location checks,” Dryfe explained, meaning the surveillance of places like public parks or local businesses, where officers patrol as a matter of routine or as a response to an alarm or call regarding suspicious activity.
“You have to get pretty far down the list of things that we do to get to an actual crime,” he also noted, reinforcing the fact that Cheshire is largely a very safe community.
Data for Cheshire will be available going back to 2020, and can be analyzed by types of offenses, by approximate location, and even sorted by the day of the week on which the call occurred. The data doesn’t offer proof that a crime was committed but rather refers to the type of call that was made.
Crime trends are represented in graphic charts. Elionfante demonstrated a map overlay tool in which circles correspond to locations of offenses, with a larger circle indicating a greater number.
Privacy is naturally a central concern. “Things that are protected by statute, such as sexual assault or juvenile offenses,” will not be part of the dashboard, Dryfe stated. Nor will the tool allow a user to know the “specific address” of an incident. “We’re trying to keep the data somewhat anonymous. It gives a general vicinity, not an exact address.”
The stolen vehicle list, for example, doesn’t provide any address connected to the crime but does identify the make and model of pilfered cars.
Data such as police blotter numbers — time and general address of incident response — were already public record but will be more accessible for people using the online tool, Dryfe says.
“It gives an indication to the residents about exactly what it is that we’re doing out there with our time and our efforts to keep the community safe. I hope it will encourage people to look for the information that they have every right to know,” he said.