Monday, November 26, 2012

Using Google Alerts for Crime Analysis

Google Alerts Dialog
Last week, I did a post on RSS for Crime Analysts. In the article I touched on using Google Reader to view RSS feeds and mentioned how effective it was when used in conjunction with Google Alerts. This week, I want to expand on using Google Alerts to monitor the Internet, and news stories in particular for keywords. A couple of years ago, I posted this about Google Alerts which dovetails quite nicely with last week’s piece.

A number of Google's tools have found their way into my daily work product. One of the neatest in my Google bag of tricks is the use of Google Alerts.

Google Alerts allows you to monitor the web continuously for certain search terms. When Google crawls the web and finds new entries that meet those search terms you'll get an email notification. I use Google Alerts to continuously monitor Internet news stories for news articles about the town in which I work. Like most crime analysts, I also wear the Department's criminal intelligence analyst hat too. There is quite a bit of good information out there floating around on the Internet in news stories, blogs and websites.

The email notification can either be sent immediately or in digest form. Digest, means that all the relevant articles are aggregated into one email and sent together in one email. For me this digest format works the best. The email will have the article title, a snippet of the story, the source of the story and a link to the original article. If you use an RSS Feed Reader like Google Reader, you can have them sent as an RSS feed too.

While this is a good way to keep up on the local news coverage about police stories in my city, the real value comes when someone from our city goes and does something newsworthy somewhere else. A recent example proved it's worth when I opened my email to find a news story from a small town newspaper website in Indiana. The story recounted that police there had arrested a citizen of our city after the officer there made a highway interdiction traffic stop and discovered that our citizen had been smuggling a large quantity of narcotics through their city. When I checked our records, I discovered that we had also arrested him for narcotics charges and even had a pending case on him.

I then rang up the Indiana agency and asked them about our errant drug smuggler and even was able to provide copies of our cases to the agency for use in an upcoming court hearing. While speaking to their officer I learned that they had not called our agency and they were quite surprised to find out that we already knew about their two day old arrest. In addition to helping their agency understand more about the criminal they were dealing with, it allowed us to have a more complete picture of his activities as well.

In order to use Google Alerts, you need to have a free Google account. Once you have created a Google account and signed in, navigate your browser to the Google Alerts website.

The search terms I find works best is "police anytown anystate" substituting your city and state for "anytown" and "anystate". Select your preferences for frequency, delivery method, etc. You may also wish to create similar alerts for neighboring towns if your town is like mine and has adjacent communities.

Google has quite a comprehensive help file all the features of Google Alerts. It's worth a read if you want to get serious about using Google Alerts to stay on top of things.

Don't forget, while I am posting only once a week now here on the blog, I am also posting short pieces on my Google+ page and sending links to everything out on my Twitter feed. Circle me, follow me or just visit those pages to see those posts.


  1. useful and opens up mind about how a crime analyst should think.


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