Monday, December 10, 2012

The Democratization of Crime Analysis

Here at the police department in the sleepy little burg where I work, we've been using a number of crime analysis applications from Bair Analytics. We started with the ATAC Workstation and then later added ATACRAIDS and RAIDSONLINE. I've been very pleased with these tools.

ATACRAIDS is an online crime analysis and mapping application. Crime data from your agency is uploaded to Bair nightly and then it's accessible via the ATACRAIDS web application. Essentially, it's a cloud based crime analysis and mapping application. This means that it can be easily deployed across the entire agency without having to install software on each and every computer. Additionally, since it's web based, you can access it via a tablet or other portable computer.

Back when we purchased it, my Deputy Chief said that it was like "adding a bunch of other analysts" to the department. By that he meant that a quick map or some basic crime analysis could be done by officers or supervisors themselves without having to tie my small crime analysis unit up on these tasks or to wait for us to have the time to get to their analysis. This would also allow us to focus on bigger projects that required our expertise.

Recently, Bair rolled out some changes to ATACRAIDS that really excited me. We've heard a lot of press about predictive policing technology. Essentially, predictive policing uses some the same data mining techniques that large companies use to try and predict where crimes are likely to occur in the future.

The new Prediction Zone feature was rolled out last Monday. I immediately used it to create a BOLO for my agency on a particular crime problem that we had been experiencing and it gave me a forecast zone that I distributed forecasting another one of these crimes within the week. By Wednesday, we had another crime right in the middle of the forecast zone. I don't know about you but I was pretty excited about that. In our very first use of this new Prediction Zone feature we saw that it worked.

The reason I think this is important for my agency is that now instead of having to wait for the crime analysis unit to create a BOLO and distribute it, an enterprising patrol officer or supervisor can run his own analysis to make a prediction of a future crime hotspot. Hopefully, this will enable him to know where he or she should spend their discretionary patrol time to try and interrupt a crime series or pattern without waiting on someone else to conduct the analysis.

Making simple to use crime analysis tools available as widely as possible at your agency democratizes crime analysis. This is very important. If a patrol officer or detective thinks they have to let the crime analysis unit do all crime analysis, and they think their task is not important enough for the crime analysis unit to tackle, they may not seek out analytical help. This could lead them to "flying blind" and not being as effective as they could be.

As crime analysts we should try to get crime analysis tools and knowledge into as many hands as possible at our departments. What are you doing to get analysis and analytical tools into the hands of your officers?


  1. For predictive maps, I have been using CrimeStat - and we use ArcGIS. I have been doing a lot of scripting in Python to automate the tasks. It allows me to get information out daily and gives me the time to focus on specific problems instead of mapping the same data over and over as it updates.

    I am a bit surprised by the willingness of large organizations to purchase third party mapping applications that sit on top of ArcGIS (we have CrimeView) or web based solutions that could easily be done in Leaflet - especially when they have an IT department.

    You have a great blog!

  2. Paul, Thanks for the comments. I think that for many agencies, using a third party application makes sense. Often times the third party can do it better and cheaper than you could do it yourselves. Just because I own a wrench and a screwdriver doesn't mean I should try and repair the transmission on my car.

    While we use ArcGIS and it's associated server, it was more cost effective to push our crime data out using ATACRAIDS than it was to do it ourselves. It also took a huge workload off me which allows me to spend more time doing crime analysis.

  3. We use 3rd Party extensions too, but if I was a mechanic with a wrench and a screwdriver, I would fix my own transmission - 99% of the time.

    ArcGIS has ArcPy so everything can be automated. And if you can use model builder you only need 5 lines of Python code to execute it. It's the same code for every model you build - just change the name of the tool. Set this to run as a scheduled task in Windows and done. This frees up so much of my time. It works while I'm in bed sleeping. Everyone gets emails of maps whether I'm in the office or not.

    My org used a third party to setup the data and then another to access it. Almost nobody in the org knows how to get data out without the plugin. If we need another piece of our data, we have to call and pay. Forget fixing the transmission, we don't even have a car.

    We have a taxi.
    We pay to get anywhere.
    And someone else is driving.

  4. Python for Arc9.3: Connect to a model in your toolbox.

    import arcgisscripting
    gp = arcgisscripting.create()
    gp.workspace = "c:/basedata"

    gp.AddToolbox("C:/..../Application Data/ESRI/ArcToolbox/My Toolboxes/My Models.tbx")



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