Friday, July 6, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 21 - Collect Your Own Data

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.

In this post we are going to cover Step 21 - Collect Your Own Data. For a while we've been making our way through the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the Center For Problem Oriented Policing and is a must read for any crime analyst. I've been posting about each step is order to pique your interest in reading the book on your own. The thing that makes a crime analyst a professional and not just a job is the constant need to learn and improve our skillset. A professional crime analyst should never be satisfied that he or she knows all there is to know about their profession. Going through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers is one good way to add tools to your analyst toolbox.

Before I became a crime analyst, I was a working police officer for about 14 and one half years. There was a change in mindset in going from a police officer to be an analyst as instead of jumping into a city car and going out to investigate, I was stuck behind a desk staring into a computer screen. This chapter will give you permission to get out from behind your desk, at least every now and then.

The reason being, is that in Problem Oriented Policing, not all the data you may need to solve a problem is to be found in your database. Some of it may be in a database, but it may not be one you have immediate access to such as one maintained by another City department or even another agency. In several examples given by the authors, the data likely didn't exist in any database and required the analyst to get out and do the "fieldwork" required to collect it.

The authors list a number of additional benefits to collecting your own data.
  1. Getting into the field can give you an understanding of the problem that you would never get from sitting in front of your computer, however rich the data that you manipulate.
  2. Designing a data-collection instrument can force you to think very hard about the nature of the problem, about the kind of responses that might be effective, and how best to evaluate your efforts.
  3. Involving police officers in data collection (and in the design of the exercise) provides a valuable opportunity to train them in the need for a rigorous, systematic approach in a problem-oriented project.
  4. Undertaking your own data collection gives you the opportunity to hone your research skills and be genuinely creative. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
Next time, we'll look at Step 22 - Examine Your Data Distributions.

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