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Crime analysts are often highly educated individuals whose skills are underutilized in law enforcement agencies. Most crime analysts have bachelor's degrees and are well-trained in specific analytical skills. Yet too much of their work consists of compiling data into lists and creating maps and charts for those in policing who lack computer skills.
Even worse, analysts may be used to look up information in databases simply because they know how to design computer queries, not because it is the best use of their abilities. This look-up type of work is similar to looking up a telephone number in a phonebook -- it requires no analytical thinking, just knowledge of how phonebooks (or computer files) are organized. Are you paying college educated individuals to look things up for you?
Basic crime analysis products may consist of list of crimes, calls-for-service, arrests, and warrants. There is nothing wrong with having an analyst summarize data for you, if summarized data is what you need. However, most summarized data could be obtained from automating your information systems. Demand automated reports from your information technology staff and you will free your analyst to add value to your organization.
Analysts should be telling you what the data means, interpreting information, and telling you something useful that you do not know already. They should be telling you something valuable that allows you to take action and change your operations to prevent crimes as well as apprehend criminals.
Christopher Bruce, president of the International Association of Crime Analysts, says that your analyst should be able to tell you what is new, what is developing, and what is unusual. Your analyst should help you take action. Identified problems require responsive operational strategies. Officers should be able to develop creative responses to the crime patterns noted by crime analysts. Bruce believes that officers should do something "smart" with the products crime analysts produce, if analysts are really doing what they are trained to do.
Your analyst may be producing crime maps, but is he or she telling you what they mean? Sometimes mapped crime is static -- there is little change in aggregates and not much to interpret. But even then your analyst can study the changes of crime over time and be able to tell you which areas are most chronic problems and which areas are improving. The analyst can tell you the direction crime is moving to help you prepare for future resource allocation and prevention strategies.
Your analyst should be able to correlate other data with crime data to help you find possible suspects, possible vulnerable targets, and characteristics of troubled areas. For example, maps of public transportation routes combined with a particular mapped crime series could tell you that the suspect may have traveled by subway. Or a series of gas station robberies may show you that the robberies occur near highways -- and all gas stations in your jurisdiction can be mapped to show you the most likely future targets -- those near highways. Analysts can overlay demographic information to tell you the nature of population in the areas, such as housing, age groups, and income.
Your analyst should be tracking crimes that are occur more often in series than other crimes, such as rape, robbery, burglary, and theft from and of vehicles. They should be able to tell you when a series of crimes is emerging at the earliest possible moment so that an operational response can be implemented to end the crime series.
Rapes with unknown assailants should be monitored and the analyst should work closely with sex crime investigators to produce holistic analytical products. Holistic products would combine intelligence from investigators, data analysis, geographic analysis, modus operandi analysis and time series analysis to give investigators the most accurate picture possible of the sex crimes they are trying to solve.
Most, if not all, law enforcement jurisdictions are dealing with the problem of copper and metal theft. Your crime analyst should be able to track all relevant thefts, map all scrap metal dealers, and identify all persons arrested for such types of thefts in your jurisdiction as well as provide information about their associates and modus operandi. Analysts can conduct and intensive problem analysis to give you and your agency a comprehensive understanding of the problem: patterns of who, what, where, when, how -- and also be able to speculate why from their pattern analyses.
Determining the "why" of a crime problem can lead to the development of creative strategies to address problems. Your analyst can research best practices from other jurisdictions and places like the Center for Problem Oriented Policing to provide a variety of possible operational activities that might led to better policing.
If 10% of criminals commit 50% of the crime, as some suggest, how can we target the chronic offenders better? Through good crime analysis you should be able to name your chronic offenders, have their histories summarized with photos and recorded modus operandi, and all this information should be accessible to your officers in crime analysis products. Targeting repeat offenders means knowing everything there is to know within the law about them. Your crime analysts should be able to put this information together for you -- if you make the raw data and intelligence information available to them.
What about crime bulletins? Does your analyst produce useful information in the form of bulletins on possible crime series and notable patterns? Do you develop appropriate response to the bulletins besides increasing police presence in target areas?
Bruce notes that police training books from the seventies seem to have more information on innovative responses to crime patterns than current texts suggest. In the course "Tactical Crime Analysis," a course developed by Bruce for the International Association of Crime Analysts training series, a variety of tactical responses to identified crime patterns are offered. They are classified as tactics to apprehend, tactics to suppress, and tactics to harden.
Tactics to apprehend include rapid response, planned response, surveillance, stakeouts, informants, controlled buys, and decoys. Tactics to suppress include saturation patrol, directed patrol, profile interview patrol, alarms, guard dogs, checkpoints, closures, and visible cameras.
Tactics to harden include security surveys, property identification, warning signs, community organization, community information, and media information.
Crime analysis directed protocols are not used in many agencies. COMPSTAT, the police management accountability and problem solving strategy developed by the NYPD, is based on some crime analysis information, but it is not crime analysis. Crime analysis must include interpretation -- giving meaning to problems.
Many times in policing, responses depend on the personal initiative of individual officers and supervisors, and sometimes the initiative of the community. Formal tactical action teams can use crime analysis information to make a real impact on reducing crime and apprehending criminals based on crime analysis information.
Is your analyst producing information that can be used to inform such decisions and actions? What does your crime analyst do? Find out and make the changes needed to take advantage of this valuable resource in the fight against crime.
International Association of Crime Analysts
Center for Problem-Oriented Policing