Here, an analyst from the Rock Hill (S.C.) Police Department uses computer-generated maps. (Photo Dale Stockton) computer-generated maps
FEATURED IN INVESTIGATION
To better understand patterns, series and trends in crime and determine an appropriate response, many departments add the position of crime analyst. These positions are often created at the direction of a high-ranking department official. But, in many cases, analysts work with personnel from various parts of the department and define their roles with little outside direction. If they produce quality analysis—as they usually do—the department is reassured of its value, but any future progress remains solely with the analyst. The problem: Truly effective crime analysis is conducted in partnership with the department, not alone.
This article focuses on laying a strong foundation for crime analysis in a department. I also discuss the technology necessary to conduct effective analysis.
From the Top, Down
Crime analysis is the study of crime and disorder problems. Its goal is to reduce crime and disorder and/or prevent crime from occurring. The tenets of intelligence-led policing, according to Jerry Ratcliffe, PhD, suggest that data analysis and crime intelligence “are pivotal to an objective, decision-making framework that facilitates crime and problem reduction.” In essence, analysis should lead to better informed decisions.
To be effective, departments must be committed to crime analysis at the highest levels of the organization. Departments must allow crime analysts to be consultants on crime and disorder issues and strategists in determining their reduction. Analysts must be allowed to be independent and objective to produce the best product. Example: The analyst can’t be concerned that staffing in one particular police district is disproportionate. The analyst needs to provide an understanding of the disproportionate nature of resource allocation and consult with decision-makers about ways to adjust deployment.
In addition, direct management of crime analysis must also support analysis efforts. Often, crime analysis resides within a division of investigations or a division of patrol. But the work of an analyst should support both micro-level issues (e.g., individual investigations or specific crime series) and macro-level issues (e.g., the increase of guns in the community or increases in gang-related violent crimes). Analysts should have access to and consult for all levels of department personnel, from the line officer to the chief. Direct managers of crime analysts must take an active interest in learning about crime analysis and remain supportive. But they should also allow analysts flexibility to effectively perform their jobs.
Further, departments must take an active role in the recruitment of analysts and provide appropriate pay and training. An analyst must have a specific level of technical knowledge combined with practical law enforcement understanding.
Analysts occupy a realm somewhere between information technology and practical law enforcement, so they must possess myriad skills. These skills include the ability to work with and manipulate data using various software packages; effective verbal and written communications; and an understanding of crime theory and corresponding research methods and techniques. The educational background of an analyst may be diverse and include studies in criminal justice, social science, geography and/or information technology. The combination of diverse educational backgrounds and the presence of each of the above skill sets come with appropriate compensation. As a result, departments need to review the skills required and the abilities of the analyst and pay accordingly.
Departments should require the analyst to perform at the optimal level, as well as reward them for doing so. Moreover, when a department makes the decision to create a crime analyst position and recruit an analyst, the department should be committed to investing in appropriate analyst training and allow analysts to travel to conferences, such as the Inter-national Association of Crime Analyst Annual Conference, Crime Mapping Research Conference or Problem Oriented Policing Conference, which combine necessary training and networking opportunities. If these opportunities don’t exist, the ability for the analyst to progress in their position will diminish.
Once organizational commitment, appropriate management and corresponding salary and training opportunities are established, technology considerations are key to conducting effective crime analysis. A strong relationship between information technology specialists and crime analysts is paramount. This relationship shouldn’t be defined by obtaining and fulfilling requests but working together to develop a key understanding. Whereas information technology specialists obtain and store data, crime analysts work to manipulate the data for necessary analytical purposes.
The role of a crime analyst can’t be performed without data. Primarily, this consists of traditional law enforcement sources of calls for service, incidents, arrests, field investigative reports or traffic citations from the department’s jurisdiction. But crime analysts should also have access to other data sources, such as census data, motor vehicle registrations and business records, including business type and owner information. Data—whether internal or external—should be available to analysts in common database formats. This allows analysts the ability to perform queries with flexibility and speed.
Example: If a crime analyst needs to review all sexual offenders with blonde hair in a search for a person of interest in a child abduction case, time doesn’t allow for the analyst to search a Web site for this information. The analyst needs to be able to perform a query on raw sexual offender data that provides a short list of individuals who have blonde hair within minutes. Moreover, many data sources don’t contain the key elements that are necessary for analysis. As a result, analysts need to have flexibility with the data to add information that will be used for analytical purposes. Example: Much traditional law enforcement information is classified by statute. Analysts need to be able to perform a series of queries, which combine all statutes for burglary into a category simply defined as burglary.
Additionally, the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) contains only a general category for robbery and a specific category for home invasion robbery. But the general category of robbery can be made up of armed robbery or robbery by sudden snatching or even carjacking. Analysts, through queries, must be able to break this general UCR category into types of robberies by modus operandi to better outline strategies to address the crime problem.
In conjunction with data, crime analysts use a variety of computer hardware and software to conduct effective crime analysis. These tools must be supported by the agency. Crime analysts should, in working with information techno-logy specialists, have high-end computers with optimal processing speed and memory. They should also have access to a laptop. In being able to perform their job-related functions remotely, they can adapt to changing needs while building strong interpersonal relationships. Software should include database management and application tools, such as Microsoft SQL or Access, geographic information systems (GIS) for both the display of geographic information in the production of crime maps and efficient integration of geographic, law enforcement or other varied data sources and reporting software to efficiently display statistical information or to aggregate data from various data sources. Additional tools, such as link analysis software to display relationships between individuals or text analytics software to look for patterns and trends in unstructured text, should be considered based on the intended or defined function of the analyst.
Example: Crime analysts in the Jacksonville (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office conduct day-to-day analysis using the following tools:
- Each analyst has a desktop and laptop computer. The laptop allows for analysts to be centralized within headquarters but mobile to respond to the needs of the group of users they support.
- Microsoft SQL and Microsoft Access are database management tools used to perform queries to add necessary information to traditional data for analysis purposes. Law enforcement information from the current day is processed through midnight and is ready for analysts to perform analytical tasks. There are no other steps the analyst has to take to begin their job for the day.
- ESRI’s ArcGIS is the foundation technology for analysis. Data containing an address is geocoded in everyday data standardization processes. Analysts don’t need to geocode the data source; they use ArcView, in developing analytical products, by visualizing all crimes through a geographic perspective. All complementing data sources, such as modus operandi, property and vehicles, are linked in ArcView. The ability to link all data sources, with or without an address, in ArcView provides integration for speed and flexibility in producing analytical products.
- Crystal Reports are used to produce daily statistical reports through an automated process and are available for all levels of department personnel. Analytical products that provide information about patterns, series and/or trends or specific investigative follow-up are produced through selecting data of interest (e.g., incidents, arrests, field investigative reports) in ArcView and exporting it to a series of general, pre-created Crystal Reports.
- Analysts use unstructured data—which is common in law enforcement narratives—to determine or enhance knowledge of patterns, series or trends with IxReveal’s UReveal product. By providing a series of key words that define a pattern, series or trend, analysts can locate all law enforcement or external data containing references to the key words.
Example: If an analyst is looking for a blue, bluish or teal van seen by a witness in a robbery series, U-Reveal will search narratives to look for combinations of the word blue or bluish or teal with the word van to review previous law enforcement records with this type of vehicle.
- Microsoft Visio or other software tools are used to create Link Analysis, which will provide networks of individuals.
To conduct effective crime analysis, departments must be committed from the highest levels to integrate crime analysis in decision making, support the work of crime analysts through management, and pay and train analysts accordingly. Likewise, departments must be committed to investing in necessary information technology to assist crime analysts by facilitating a partnership between information technology specialists and analysts, ensuring access to a variety of data sources that are flexible and can be manipulated using database tools and providing proper hardware and software for conducting effective crime analysis. Strong commitment in both of these areas will produce effective analysis that can guide decisions for a multitude of topics, large and small, for all levels of department personnel.
- Boba R: Crime Analysis and Crime Mapping. Sage Publications Inc. Thousand Oaks, Calif. 2005.
- Ratcliffe J: Intelligence-Led Policing. Willan Publishing. Cullompton, Devon, U.K. 2008.