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Crime analysis reporting and mapping for small agencies: a low-cost and simplified approach.

One evening, the Gardena, California, Police Department received a burglary-in-progress call. Officers arrived at the residence in less than 1 minute, discovered the perpetrator inside the house, and arrested him. Investigators subsequently linked the man to other burglaries in the area.

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The officers, however, were not in that part of the city by chance; they were on directed patrol duties. The sergeant supervising that shift had studied crime pattern information from crime analysis reports and maps routed to him a short time before the shift's briefing. Upon recognizing a cluster of burglaries in the late afternoon in that specific geographic area, he deployed officers who, in turn, responded immediately to the burglary call.

USEFUL TOOLS

Crime mapping has become an important and useful tool for law enforcement. Before the availability and use of computers with geographic information systems (GIS) software, agencies created handmade pin maps to help officers visualize where crimes occurred. Crime mapping allows law enforcement organizations to study crime trends and various factors relating to police resource deployment through the use of simplified crime data summary reports and maps. These provide powerful communication aids for law enforcement agencies and can significantly influence decision making. The use of maps allows decision makers to focus on crime reduction and prevention tactics in the right manner at the right place. (1) Advancements in GIS technology have allowed agencies to streamline the process and do more for less money. (2) The use of maps as a tool for crime prevention has become more important with the development of computer-based statistical analysis methods, such as Compstat (an acronym for computer statistics). Many law enforcement agencies in the United States and other countries are using the Compstat model, which has become popular during the past 10 years. (3)

Simply put, Compstat looks at a wide array of statistics, ranging from street crimes to officer productivity, and holds police managers responsible for following up on identified crime problems. The basic premise behind Compstat rests with management accountability, which police executives and managers thoroughly discuss at meetings. Managers set forth their strategies and actions based on the information made available to them. (4) Executives and managers receive a variety of computer-generated information, such as officer productivity data and statistics related to crime and quality-of-life conditions, compiled by crime analysts. (5)

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Many articles, books, and training guides exist related to Compstat outline programs based primarily in large cities and metropolitan areas. Large agencies, especially with crime-ridden neighborhoods, generally have more statistics to study and often can identify crime trends more easily. These departments usually have crime analysis units and budgets that allow for specialized computer equipment. But, what about smaller agencies? (6) Can they also benefit from a Compstat program? Although smaller departments make up the majority of law enforcement agencies in the United States, many do not use statistically based programs to track crime or evaluate field activities. A number of reasons may explain why, including small budgets, lack of technical personnel, or low crime rates. Some organizations may not require or desire a full Compstat process, but many can benefit from using comprehensive crime data reports and maps. No matter the size of the department, crime data reports and maps tell the story of what is occurring in the community.

The first step of the Compstat process involves obtaining accurate and timely intelligence and using a system developed primarily to analyze and map crime information. (7) Smaller agencies may need an effective and low-cost method to produce meaningful statistical reports, whether for a Compstat program or a simple informational distribution system. Of importance, departments must distribute these reports in a method that benefits every employee, from the executive to the officer in the field.

Distributing regularly scheduled reports and maps is especially important to agencies that have difficulty passing information between field personnel and divisions. Many organizations have officers working 12-hour shifts over 3 or 4 workdays per week. This creates a natural problem of information sharing because field personnel rarely come in contact with other members of their agency or learn about crimes that occurred while they were not working. Squad or team deployment often results in situations where valuable crime information is unintentionally not shared with other squads.

So, how do smaller agencies create and disseminate this information? How do they set up a program without a crime analysis staff and funds to pay for it? One department found an answer by creating a simple but informative reporting and mapping system that cost under $1,000 and did not require a full-time crime analysis detail.

THE GARDENA APPROACH

The Gardena, California, Police Department identified the need for a statistically based reporting and mapping system through a strategic planning process. (8) The organization then developed a simple but effective method of distributing crime information in the form of maps and reports to affected personnel, including managers and supervisors who review the information to effectively deploy personnel. The department named the program the Gardena Crime Accountability and Reduction Strategy (GCARS).

GIS software has become more customized and user friendly but carries varying and often high prices for specific and enhanced applications. Technological advancements in the last few years have resulted in the development of less expensive alternatives and standardized software products that agencies can purchase directly from a software retailer. The products needed include report compilation software and a mapping program. The report compilation software used to prepare the data and create analysis reports produces simple, to-the-point maps but does not have the complexity of the larger, more expensive GIS applications. Using this less expensive method requires greater human interpretation than more customized and automated applications. But, depending on the technical abilities of their personnel, agencies can automate much of the process.

The Gardena Police Department shares a regional database computer system with three neighboring agencies. The network contains computer-aided dispatch (CAD), a records management system (RMS), a custody management system (CMS), and an automated report-writing system (ARS). Purchased from the same vendor, all of these systems interact with one another. Integrated systems offer a distinct advantage for setting up the reports and maps because the end result should contain one primary data record for each incident, normally assigned a case or incident number. All information related to the incident is contained in one master record. The RMS acts as the parent system and organizes the data records.

Planning

The agency's command staff should study all available crime data and calls-for-service information to formulate the direction of the program. Determining which data to include in the reports and maps is critical. It is imperative that the planners talk to officers, supervisors, and investigators to find out what information would benefit them the most. Planners also must look at existing crime data and determine which crimes are the most prevalent in the community. The Gardena Police Department uses the Part I Uniform Crime Reporting crimes, which have a great impact on quality-of-life issues and, for years, have been used as benchmark statistics for communities across the United States. (9) The department further subdivided some crimes by classification to provide greater detail. To recognize trends, it is necessary to identify variables or crime factors associated with each crime and make sure personnel record these items when investigating crimes. (10) For example, the type of weapon used in an assault or the method a burglar employed to enter a house represent important crime factors that could detect trends.

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The planning stage should identify the employees needed for the information-gathering process, method of report dissemination, and follow-up strategies. Marketing the program among members of the agency is important during the early stages. Field personnel should find the information worthwhile and of assistance in policing their assigned geographic areas.

Software and Training

Two specific types of computer software, report generating and mapping, are required. Assuming that the agency uses an automated RMS, the first step in the output process involves collecting the crime information from the database. Off-the-shelf, commercial software, often referred to as business intelligence software, will retrieve data from the RMS database and prepare the information in a report. The software collects data from a source (usually a database or spreadsheet) and displays it in formats created and customized by the user. This part of the process may require the agency to train existing personnel in data retrieval and report creation or, perhaps, as a better option, hire a specialist to create templates. Depending on the complexity of the desired reports, this could add extra costs to the program. However, once the agency has the templates, anyone with basic computer skills can use them. In the Gardena Police Department, an existing employee prepared the templates after receiving training with the report-generating software. Because the data must be organized in a format that the mapping software can import, smaller agencies that do not use a database to collect crime statistics can enter the information into a spreadsheet as the first step in preparing it for mapping. (11)

A commercially available mapping program that will plot points on a map represents the other type of software needed. Agencies do not need to purchase complicated GIS software unless they desire greater amounts of mapping tools. Advanced GIS programs also may require the yearly purchase of geocoded map data licenses, whereas the less expensive off-the-shelf mapping software does not. (12) Most mapping products will contain all of the street addresses in the United States and in many other countries. Obviously, even the most up-to-date software may not include newly constructed roads. Mapping programs base their address geocoding by block numbers, rather than individual street addresses. The software also may have a function to allow the use of latitude and longitude coordinates for plotting locations. Many CAD and RMS programs contain geocoded latitude and longitude coordinates linked to incident addresses. Using these often allows for more precise point plotting on maps.

It is critical that the mapping program contains data import functions to enable point plotting. Some mapping programs offer single point plotting, while others offer an array of features, including various forms of shading. Agencies should evaluate these products to find which one best meets their needs.

Data Input

The information entered into the crime database needs to be standardized. The old and overused "data in, data out" phrase best summarizes this. The more specific the information, the better the reports and maps will reflect patterns because crime report data, the primary mechanism of the mapping program, produces what is plotted on the maps. In Gardena, officers enter crime report information directly into the database through the ARS when they write incident reports. The system allows officers to enter crime data factors immediately into RMS and gives them access to real- or near-time data. Of course, agencies that enter data manually will not have information available for reports and maps as quickly as those with automated report-writing systems.

Agencies can use CAD data for field productivity and shift management. Such information, however, is completely different from crime data. Organizations can employ CAD data to track and evaluate field service calls, response times, officer activity statistics, and many other areas of need. (13) A serious problem associated with using CAD data in crime analysis trend reporting is that the initial information taken from a complainant often is classified wrong or is incorrect. This occurs because the 911 operator does not receive all of the facts about the crime, which a field officer will collect later. CAD data can produce maps indicating the locations where calls are generated but not necessarily where crimes occur.

Quality control during data input is important. Supervisors should ensure that personnel enter specific and applicable data for different crime types. For example, because weapon information is critical in robbery and assault cases, omitting specific data may result in a crime pattern going undetected. Therefore, agencies should standardize the input of data and provide their personnel with detailed training and follow-up.

Production of Reports and Maps

During the planning process, organizations should identify which types of reports and maps will prove the most beneficial for all personnel. The Gardena Police Department created various data output reports, which include information from RMS and CAD, so its members can receive accurate and recent information about criminal activity and field service calls. Because trend identification constitutes the most important aspect of the system, producing data for this purpose is essential. For example, the information contained in an auto theft report needs the location of the incident, the date and time of occurrence, and the description of the stolen vehicle. Then, all of this information can be displayed in crime analysis reports and plotted on maps, which will have a data point for each street address. Maps showing both stolen and recovered vehicle locations have become worthwhile tools for officers in the field.

The department primarily uses Uniform Crime Reporting Part I offenses, with some subcategories (specifically burglaries and auto thefts), for the crime analysis reports. The data include the location and date and time of occurrence, suspect information, victim identifiers (race, age, and sex), and involved-vehicle information. The categories for the maps and accompanying reports are homicide, rape, assault, robbery, burglary, theft (larceny), and vehicle crime. Personnel prepare a detailed report listing crimes in geographic patrol areas (beats) at various time intervals.

For analyzing field service calls, the department uses dispatch or CAD data, which can provide an abundant amount of time- and location-sensitive information, that it can use to analyze and deploy resources. The reports containing field service calls identify locations where an abundance of calls may occur and where the department may need to redirect resources. The reports produced from CAD data include field service calls by day of week and time of day, locations receiving the most calls, and the most frequent call type. The report-generating software can create custom bar charts and other types of graphs that provide excellent visualization of the days and times when field resources are being used.

Distribution

The Gardena Police Department distributes the database reports via three basic methods: e-mail, printing, or posting on bulletin boards in the police facility. Personnel route reports automatically to a printer in the shift supervisor's office prior to the start of a shift and also to investigators. Analysis reports list crime and dispatch information for 24-hour and 3-day intervals. Supervisors can quickly view these reports and pass the information on to line officers at the beginning of a shift, pointing out any current crime trends.

Maps, which compliment the reports, offer a visual representation for field personnel and supervisors. The department distributes different types of maps that depict various crime factors. For example, points on the map for robberies have different colors for each classification (e.g., handgun, knife, strong-arm, or other weapon). Agencies that print the maps in black and white, however, could use different symbols for each category. Maps also can display different crime factors. For example, the department can create a residential burglary map listing occurrences between certain hours where a rear door was forced open. These types of maps can become more detail specific and be produced based on particular requests.

In addition to the reports and maps, the department recently added an online log, (14) which allows employees to enter a wide array of information complementing the crime statistics and maps. The log items are linked to the report distribution system and provide additional criminal information to officers and investigators on the upcoming shifts. This system allows for quick distribution of crime information and adds a human touch to the automated data. For example, an officer receives information from a citizen about suspicious activity in an area where burglaries are occurring and enters it into the log where it can be shared with other personnel.

Assessment

Agencies can evaluate the reports and maps through a Compstat process or simply have their managers, supervisors, and field personnel meet and informally discuss them. The key to a successful mapping program is to continually study the reports and maps and then relay the information to the personnel in the field. This allows supervisors to assign tasks or develop plans based on the intelligence. The management team and supervisors should use the information to allocate resources and evaluate staffing levels. During the first 6 months of 2006, the city of Gardena experienced a decrease in overall crime, enabling the police department to allocate resources to specific problem areas. Closely monitoring criminal activity has allowed for the deployment of directed patrols for preventative purposes as detailed in the opening scenario of this article.

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Law enforcement organizations also should continually review distribution methods of the crime data reports and maps. In addition to sending information by e-mail and posting it on bulletin boards, agencies can make the information available to employees via an in-house intranet system.

It is important to continually review trends and crime rates. Smaller agencies can use this method even in communities with less criminal activity. An assessment of field service calls may be all that is needed in such locations. Organizations also can use the system for many other areas of concern, such as sex offender addresses, residences of parolees and of persons having outstanding warrants, and traffic collision locations.

CONCLUSION

Using inexpensive and simple methods to track information can benefit many law enforcement agencies, regardless of size or level of criminal activity. The process also can have a positive affect on quality-of-life issues.

A statistically based reporting and mapping system can offer agencies the ability to identify crime trends and deploy resources based on the compiled information. Personnel can quickly and easily create reports and maps that can provide an excellent crime prevention tool for officers responsible for a geographic area. This, in turn, allows them to respond to calls faster and better protect their communities.

Endnotes

(1) Spencer Chainey and Jerry Ratcliffe, GIS and Crime Mapping (Sussex, England: Wiley. 2005). 354.

(2) John Dorriety. "Compstat for Smaller Departments." Law and Order, June 2005, 100-106.

(3) William Bratton and Peter Knobler, Turn Around: How America's Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic (New York. NY: Random House, 1998), 308.

(4) Jon M. Shane, "Compstat Process." FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, April 2004, 12-21; "Compstat Design," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, May 2004, 12-19; and "Compstat Implementation," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, June 2004. 13-21.

(5) Vincent Henry, The Compstat Paradigm (Flushing, NY: Looseleaf Law Publications, 2003), 18.

(6) Over 18,000 state, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies of varying sizes are in the United States. A great number of these employ fewer than 10 officers, while the average-sized agency has under 25 officers.

(7) Supra note 3, 224.

(8) Located in Los Angeles County, the Gardena Police Department has 87 police officers who serve a community of 60,000.

(9) Part I offenses include the violent crimes of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, as well as the property crimes of burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft.

(10) A crime factor is the individual piece of information collected about a particular criminal incident. It could be the type of weapon, the time of day, suspect descriptions, vehicles used, methods of entering a building, and many other activities or descriptions to enter into the database.

(11) Of significant importance, agencies must ensure that they set up the address-location data exported by the database reporting software to match the geographic-location naming system in the mapping software. In simpler terms, the addresses downloaded from RMS must match the street addresses contained in the mapping software. Intersections should receive special attention because the mapping software may not recognize the format. As a quality control point, agencies can instruct dispatch complaint operators and field personnel to use actual addresses, rather than intersections, whenever possible.

(12) Geocoding is the process of putting information onto a map. Agencies can purchase address and location data geocoded for GIS products. Off-the-shelf mapping programs contain geocoded street addresses.

(13) Field service calls are incidents handled by law enforcement personnel in the field and are the primary calls placed by members of the community to the dispatch center.

(14) The Gardena Police Department encourages its employees, whether on or off duty, to use the log, which operates in the same fashion as a blog on the Internet.

For additional information about the Gardena Crime Accountability and Reduction Strategy, contact the author at eburnett@gardenapd.org.
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Author:Burnett, Ed
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Oct 1, 2007
Words:3409
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