Monday, December 26, 2016

What is Community Policing?

I originally wrote this post for a software company’s blog in 2014. This company was bought out and recently their blog and website have been removed from the web permanently. I am reposting it here for posterity. 

Recent news stories about unrest in several American communities after police Use of Force incidents have highlighted the need for police/community partnerships. These partnerships often are referred to or emphasized in the concept of Community Policing. But just what is Community Policing and where did it come from? To answer this, we need to go back to just before the Victorian era in England.

Sir Robert Peel was a British Statesman and politician. More importantly he is considered the father of the modern police force after setting up the Royal Irish Constabulary in 1813 and the London Metropolitan Police Force in 1829. As part of this later force, he promulgated instructions which later became know as the Peelian Principles. In spite of their age, these principles are timeless in what they say about the role of a police force in modern society.

They are:

  1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
  3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
  4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
  5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
  6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
  7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
  9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.


So just what is community policing? The US Department of Justice defines community policing this way:
“Community policing is, in essence, a collaboration between the police and the community that identifies and solves community problems.”  
Source: Understanding Community Policing: A Framework for Action

One thing you’ll see expressed over and over in the Peelian Principles is the idea that the police and the public they serve must have a relationship based on consent and cooperation. This partnership is the foundation for Community Policing.

The second critical component of Community Policing is Problem Solving. By identifying crime and disorder problems in the community, and seeking the best ways to remedy these problems, this police/community partnership can cooperatively solve these problems.

A couple of observations about these two components: One, the trust necessary for community/police partnerships is built over time. It may take years of efforts to forge a successful partnership.

Just like the events that precipitated the protests recently in the news, incidents that stress these relationships are bound to occur. You can’t wait until they do to begin to forge a relationship. Hopefully, you’ve been working on these relationships for some time prior to something like this. Trust takes a long time to earn but can be lost in an instant. Don’t wait for a controversial event to attempt to forge these relationships.

The other point I want to make is to stress that the problem solving approach of community policing is something that needs to permeate all levels of your agency. Line officers and command staff should all be encouraged to approach crime and disorder problems with a problem solving mindset. Additionally, crime analysts are often uniquely placed to help identify, research and suggest solutions to crime and disorder problems.

Here’s a couple of places where you can learn more about Community Policing and Problem Solving:

The US Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

Additionally, the COPS office has produced a monograph that has much of what you need to know about community policing called Understanding Community Policing: A Framework for Action. It’s worth the read.

The second resource I want to list is this one:

The Center for Problem Oriented Policing

The POP Center is one of my all time favorites and is loaded with free materials that can help you with nearly any crime or disorder problem your community might face.

Does your agency practice community policing? If not, why not?

Monday, December 19, 2016

Exploring Census Data

I originally wrote this post for a software company’s blog in 2014. This company was bought out and recently their blog and website have been removed from the web permanently. I am reposting it here for posterity. 

One of the questions I am most often asked by the public is also one that the public least understands: "What is the crime rate?" Crime rate is a ratio of the number of crimes reported for a given population.

I previously touched on how to calculate crime rates. One important element in calculating crime rate is population estimates. So in this post were going to look at data available from the US Census Bureau's excellent website

When most people think of Census data, they think of the decennial population census that comes around every 10 years. But the Census Bureau does more than just count citizens every 10 years. They also provide annual population estimates and also break out demographic data such as age, occupation, housing, education, language and other data.

Let's look at one of my favorite Census tools, American Fact Finder.

Probably the easiest way to start using Fact Finder is to type the name of the area you are looking at in the Community Facts search box. This can be a state, county, city or even zip code. This will then display an interactive dialog that will allow you to choose various types of demographic data about the area you queried. You can pick the selections from the menu on the left to explore the different categories for the area you are looking at.

Once you select a category, you'll notice that there are listings of various tables where you can dig even further into the data. For example, if you select Age from the menu on the left, your given choices of various tables that contain more detailed data about that demographic. Once you navigate to those tables, you have options to modify, print or download those tables.

Want to know just how many teenagers are in your community? Select the "Age and Sex" entry under the 2012 American Community Survey and you'll get a table with estimates of the ages and genders of persons in your community.

So just what is this kind of demographic data good for? Well, for starters, it can help you to understand the make up of your community, especially as it compares to other communities. I work in Killeen, TX. The average age of people in Killeen is 27.2 years old. The next largest city in the county where I work has an average age of 37.1 years old. A 10 year difference in average age could probably explain a difference in the prevalence of certain types of crimes in communities that are only about 25 miles apart.

When I first started working at my agency over 20 years ago, we had only two Spanish speaking officers. What was really odd was that we had many more German speaking officers (about 10) than we did Spanish speaking officers. We're right next to Fort Hood and at the time, plenty of our officers were either former soldiers or dependents who had spent plenty of time stationed in Germany. A few were even trained as German linguists for the Army.

Looking at the Census data, we can see that now, just over 14% of the citizens in Killeen speak Spanish. With that number of Spanish speaking citizens, only two Spanish speaking officers wouldn't cut it. Fortunately, a lot has changed since then and we have quite a number of Spanish speaking officers at my agency now.

Data found in Fact Finder can help your agency understand the citizens you serve and understand what some of their needs might be. Large teen population? Maybe some of your efforts should focus on teen outreach. Large veteran population? Maybe a veteran diversion program for minor offenses is worth looking into.

Understanding the makeup of your community can help you to serve the community better by understanding the needs of the community. It can also help you to understand why some crimes may be more prevalent than communities of similar size.

What questions would you try to answer with this data?

Monday, December 12, 2016

What GIS can do for crime analysts

I originally wrote this post for a software company’s blog in 2014. This company was bought out and recently their blog and website have been removed from the web permanently. I am reposting it here for posterity. 

One thing I wanted to accomplish this year in these blog posts was to provide some useful information for those crime analysts who might be starting out, especially those who have little or no formal training. While at many medium to larger agencies, they are fortunate to be able to hire trained, experienced crime analysts, this is not always the case at small agencies. I’ve met quite a few analysts who got their start when their boss walked into their office where they were working as a clerk or secretary and gave them the duties of a crime analyst.

Obviously, this is not the ideal way to get your start as a crime analyst. But the reality is that even small, cash strapped agencies realize the value a crime analyst brings to their efforts to make their community safer.

In this post we’re going to look at an important tool for a crime analyst, a Geographic Information System or as it’s most commonly known, GIS. In simplest terms, GIS is a software application that lets you create maps. However, unlike an application like Google Earth, a GIS lets you conduct sophisticated analysis of large datasets and geographic elements. In his book GIS for Public Safety, Dr. Joel Caplan describes GIS this way:
A geographic information system (GIS) is a computer software application for managing, editing, analyzing and displaying data which is spatially referenced to the Earth. GIS is a tool with which data can be layered with base maps that represent the landscape of the area where the data is associated. Base maps could represent the street network, buildings, census tracts, or local landuse patterns. These data can be represented as individual layers, displayed as separate entities, or be combined with other layers to be displayed together.

Where GIS really shines is the ability to pull different layers into a map and use these layers together. Here’s an example.

A few years ago at my agency we wanted to redesign our Beat Areas. We had some significant growth since the last time our Beat Areas were drawn up and there was some concerns that the current Beats were no longer even. One challenge with Beat Areas is trying to balance size and workload for the officers that work them. The situation you don’t want is to end up with one officer taking a disproportionate amount of Calls or another ending up with a Beat Area so large he couldn’t realistically cover it during his shift. In this project we decided that we would try to strike a balance with three different variables.

  1. Calls for Service
  2. Street Network Length
  3. Geographic Size

I added several years of geocoded Calls for Service data to a map that also contained layers for the Street Network and current Beat Area boundaries. I could then analyze the current Beat Area boundaries to determine the number of Calls for Service, the length of the Street Network and geographic size of these areas. I then used the current Beat Areas as a starting point and adjusted the boundaries of each Beat to try and get areas where all of these variables were as close to equitable as possible.

This geographic analysis used several hundred thousand Calls for Service, several hundred miles of Street Network and over one hundred square miles of land area. This type of analysis would be near impossible to do without GIS. Just pushing a couple hundred thousand pins on a map would take way more time than most of us have (not to mention pushpins!). GIS makes this type of analysis pretty easy.

If you want to learn more about what GIS can do for crime analysts, here’s a couple of helpful resources:

The National Institute of Justice’s Mapping and Analysis for Public Safety program. They also have an excellent, and free book Mapping Crime: Principle and Practice that you can read or download. It might be worth reading the book to see what GIS can do for a crime analyst and to learn some of the basic terms.

ESRI is the leading provider of GIS software. They have dedicated resources for GIS in Public Safety. You can find that here. They have excellent software and support. However, excellence is not free.

There’s even an Open Source GIS project called GRASS if you’re really budget constrained. The GRASS software is free. You can learn more here.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Introduction to Link Analysis: Part 3 Link Analysis Diagraming

I originally wrote this post for a software company’s blog in 2014. This company was bought out and recently their blog and website have been removed from the web permanently. I am reposting it here for posterity. 

Two weeks ago I started a series of posts on Link Analysis. Link Analysis diagrams are used to explain the relationships between entities in a criminal investigation. There are three main types of diagrams that are part of Link Analysis. They are:

  • Time Event Chart
  • Association / Activity Matrix
  • Link Analysis Diagram

In this final post in the series, we're going to look at the last type of diagram, the Link Analysis Diagram. All the other diagrams build toward a Link Analysis Diagram.

Seven Steps of Link Analysis
Anacapa Sciences Inc. is one of the most well known groups teaching Criminal Intelligence Analysis to law enforcement in the United States. In their instruction they list Seven Steps of Link Analysis.

They are:

  1. Assemble all raw data
  2. Determine the focus of the chart
  3. Code an association matrix
  4. Code the associations in the matrix
  5. Determine the number of links for each entity
  6. Draw the preliminary chart
  7. Clarify and re-plot the chart

Time Event Charts, Association and Activity Matrixes are important to construct prior to constructing a Link Analysis Diagram. The analysis of the Time Event Chart, and matrixes will assist you in ensuring that your Link Analysis Diagram is accurate and complete.

Link Analysis Diagramming
While an Association Matrix indicates that a relationship exists between two or more persons, Link Analysis diagramming shows you what that relationship is.

Since your Link Analysis diagram may be seen by many persons it is important that your diagram conforms to certain established conventions. The US Army Intelligence Center describes it this way: “Standardization is critical to ensuring that everyone constructing, using and reading a link diagram understands exactly what the diagram depicts.” Your charts and diagrams are supposed to make things easier to understand, not harder!

Persons are depicted by an open circle with their name or alias inside.

Persons with an alias are depicted by overlapping circles with their name in one and the alias in the other.

Entities or events are depicted by a square or rectangle with the entity name inside.

A known link between two persons is represented by a solid line connecting the two.

A suspected link between two persons is represented by a dashed line connecting the two.

Conveyances are represented by a triangle.

Displaying a person’s membership in an entity is done by placing the person symbol in the entity symbol. (Since the person is inside the entity, the relationship is assumed and there is no need for a line linking the two.)

A person can be a member of more than one entity.

A person can be associated with an entity but not a member of that entity.

If Jones was associated directly with Smith and not just the Mongols, you could extend the line to Smith.

If Jones was known to be associated with the Mongols, and was believed to be associated with Smith you could display that like this:

As your chart grows you should avoid crossed association lines wherever possible.

Instead rearrange your chart elements. If there is no other way, display the lines like this:

You can depict past membership in an organization. If Smith is the current president of the Mongols, and Davis is the former president you could depict it like this. This would also work if Davis’ membership was suspected and not known.

Here’s what a completed Link Analysis chart looks like.

This chart was from an actual bank robbery conspiracy that I worked on. Any idea who the main actor was?

Methods To Create Charts
There are a number of methods you can use to create the various Link Analysis charts. Each of these methods has its strengths and weaknesses. They are:

  • Pencil and paper
  • Generalized computer drawing applications 
  • Specialized Link Analysis software

The first method, pencil and paper, has the advantage of having nearly no learning curve to operate. It’s also supremely portable and there is a very strong possibility that your organization already possesses them so the impact to your budget is minimal. The downside is that rearranging the elements on your chart is messy and time consuming. A drafting circle template or flowchart template can make your drawings much neater.

The second method is my favorite. Drawing programs can be found on most computers and range from limited functionality programs such as Paintbrush to full blown professional grade CAD or drawing programs. One that nearly every police agency possesses is Microsoft Office. MS Office’s tools have drawing tools and probably the easiest way to utilize them is by using PowerPoint. The line tool will also snap to points on the shapes and stay connected. This helps when rearranging objects on the page as the lines will stay connected to the shape while you rearrange your chart. Those same drawing tools are also available in Word though the commands to access them are a bit buried in Word’s UI.

The last method is using specialized link analysis software such as i2 or RFFlow. These applications are great in that they are specifically designed for link analysis however; they can be costly and have somewhat steep learning curve to get good results.

As was stated in the Introduction, “Don’t let the tools drive the problem”. The method you use is not as important as the chart you create. A messy but accurate pencil chart beats a neat, computer generated but inaccurate chart hands down.