It all started with a spreadsheet.

Crime mapping began in Crow Wing County in 2009 with an Excel list of all the incidents the sheriff's office responded to in the previous three months, according to county officials.

"It was something we wanted to have for the last few years," said Scott Goddard, captain of the sheriff's office.

"The crime map is fairly new. We don't have any hard data yet, but it certainly does appear that we've seen an uptick in calls from the public in reference to suspicious activity, which is exactly what we wanted."

Geographic information system (GIS) is "a specific piece of computer software that, like a database program, allows the user to store, maintain, analyze, and display database information ... that has a geographic or spatial context," according to county officials.

"We kind of went into it with the idea that we wanted to have something that maybe would be a little bit more interactive, something that people can actually see than just read about, something that they can be part of," Goddard said of the crime map that averaged 150 hits a week.

The sheriff's office partnered with Crow Wing County GIS of Land Services to create a user-friendly program to help share online crime occurrence information with the public.

"They created a program where we can enter the data ... and we wanted something, just a short description that we could enter and with enough info that people-if they see something or if they knew something about it-will maybe give us a call," Goddard said.

The web-based crime map includes information on burglaries, thefts, suspicious activity and other related crimes that have taken place over the previous two weeks in the county.

"If they happen to click on one of the icons that says 'burglary,' for example, and it says maybe 'ATV stolen and a boat motor,' and lo and behold they think, 'You know what? I saw someone in that area with an ATV who had boat motor in the back of his truck,'" Goddard said.

Zooming "too close" on the crime map will make the map icon intentionally disappear to protect the privacy of individuals in the area, but the online tool is intended to drum up more leads.

"We have two versions of the crime map up and running. We have the public site, and that one is updated and we keep that information for roughly two weeks. And then we have an internal site that we (sheriff's office) can view, and we keep that data for about three months," he said.

"We can zoom right in (with the internal crime map), and it provides a little bit more information-the call for service number, etcetera, etcetera."

According to Sheriff Todd Dahl, county residents want to be involved and that the online county crime map is another tool to help law enforcement and communities work together.

"We want our deputies and our personnel, dispatch-everyone-to be kind of aware (of the crime map). With that icon, you can quick click it, and look and say, 'OK. We've had three thefts in this area, so that's obviously a point of interest or worth an extra patrol,'" Goddard said.

The public is encouraged to report any suspicious activity taking place. Click the TIP411 link on the crime map, call 911 or the non-emergency phone number 218-829-4749 to make a report.

"Obviously, our in-custody list has always been the most popular with the public, but we were hoping that the crime mapping would be sneaking up (to the list) and running a solid second for hits," Goddard said.

To view the Crow Wing County crime map, visit https://gis.crowwing.us/CrimeMap and click on the icons for more details such as comments and date of the criminal offense in that area.