Monday, February 6, 2017

The Crime Analyst’s Blog is retired…again


I’ve finished posting all the posts I had written for another blog. All told since 2009 I have written just under 1,500 posts here at The Crime Analyst’s Blog. That being said, I think I have taken the blog about as far as I can. 

For this reason I have decided that I am going to retire the blog (again) this time, for the last time. Thank you for your interest, your comments and encouragement over the years. It really has meant a lot. 

I bid you peace. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Five Ways to Stretch Yourself as a Crime Analyst

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. 

Before I became a crime analyst, I was a police officer for over 14 years. One thing I enjoyed about being an officer is that there was quite a number of different “jobs” for police officers within my agency. I was a patrol officer responding to calls for a while, then I was a community policing oriented bicycle cop for a while, then I became a juvenile detective for a few years. After that I moved onto working adult crimes against persons, then a stint back in patrol then I went to our narcotics and vice enforcement unit. About the time I would get tired of the position I was in, I could always find another position to learn.

For the past 11 years I’ve been a crime analyst supervisor. Unlike my time as an officer, there are no other positions for me to move to unless I want to leave my agency altogether. If you do anything long enough, it’s pretty easy to get into a routine.

But there is a problem with routines, that is, it’s awfully easy to get complacent. Once you get complacent it becomes awfully easy to cease growing professionally. In our business there are some things that don’t change such as the fact that there will always be criminals ready to take advantage of others. But there is also a lot of things that have changed. Those same criminals are now using the Internet sites like Craigslist to perpetrate thefts or to fence stolen goods. Armed robbers now go after victim’s smart phones as much or more often then they demand their wallets.

Crime analysts are a valuable commodity at a law enforcement agency. They can help an agency sharpen their enforcement efforts and focus on the types of crime suppression activities that have the biggest effect on reducing crime. As a crime analyst if you are going to continue to have value to your agency and the citizens you serve you have to fight personal complacency and ensure that your crime analysis skills don’t diminish with time.

I must admit that I my natural personality favors routine. I like to get up the same time every day, eat the same foods, take the same route to work, etc. Breaking these routines can be uncomfortable. But some routines need a little shaking up every now and then.
Here are five ways you can fight professional complacency and stretch yourself as a crime analyst:

Make a set time for professional reading
The best way to make sure that you do this regularly is to make an appointment in your calendar, shut the office door, close your email program and let the telephone go to voice mail. Surely your department can spare you for 30 minutes to an hour a couple of times a week.

There are a bunch of great, free resources out there for professional reading. The US Department of Justice publishes a staggering number of law enforcement related publications. A couple of good sites is the Community Oriented Policing Services Resource Center and the Center for Problem Oriented Policing. Go to one of those sites, browse and find a publication that interests you and download it.
If you haven’t already read it one I would highly recommend is the POP Center’s Crime Analysis for Problem Solvers in 60 Steps. Another great choice would be one of POP Centers award winning POP Guide series.

Set out to learn a new skill
There is always something new to be learned. Have you thought of trying to learn a computer programming language? Even if you don’t become a programming wizard having a basic understanding of how computer programs work can help you. One programming language that has application for crime analysts is Python. Crime analysis relies heavily on Geographic Information Systems to produce crime maps and ESRI’s ArcGIS can be extended by Python.

A great place to learn Python and several other languages is the website Code Academy. They offer free, self paced beginning programming lessons for Python, HTML, JavaScript and others.

Another highly recommended skill is to take a course to master Microsoft Excel. There are a number of companies that offer instruction for a reasonable fee either in person or online. A number of colleges offer community extension classes in Excel or other computer applications as well. Another application with crime analysis benefits would be desktop publishing. We generate a huge number of reports, bulletins or other publications. Making them attractive and easy to read is important.

Attend a conference
Conferences can be great ways to learn about crime analysis or other related disciplines. They also offer great networking opportunities to meet others who also work in the field. A couple of recommended conferences are the International Association of Crime Analysts’ annual training conference or the Center for Problem Oriented Policing’s annual conference.

Join a professional association
Professional associations offer a number of the steps above such as training opportunities, classes, and conferences. They also offer opportunities to network with other crime analysts either in person or via email discussion lists, forums, etc. For crime analysts, the International Association of Crime Analysts is the most well known and is highly recommended.

Teach a class
The French philosopher Joseph Joubert said “To teach is to learn twice.” The preparation for and the act of teaching is a great way to learn a topic. Most police officers are required to get a certain number of training hours in order to keep their professional certifications. Have you considered teaching a class on basic crime statistics or crime analysis for your officers? Some agencies or high schools have Police Explorer programs that introduce students to law enforcement. Most of them are always looking for opportunities to teach their students basic law enforcement topics.

Other ideas would be to participate in a GIS Day in your area. The city where I work sponsors a big GIS Day event that brings several thousand middle school students in and gives them short, fun presentations on how geography is used in the world around them. I present a short program that introduces these kids to how GIS and crime mapping are used by law enforcement agencies.

As crime analysts we can’t afford to get complacent and to quit growing professionally. Until the day we retire we should always be seeking to improve ourselves and increase our value to our agencies. How do you grow yourself professionally?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Using Evernote for Crime Analysis

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. 

In this post, we're going to take a look at one of my favorite tools for conducting research, Evernote

So just what is Evernote?

Evernote is a computer note taking app. It allows you to write notes, store text, images or other files in a searchable form. You can then organize these notes into notebooks, you can add tags to them, turn them into reminders or share them with others. All these notes and notebooks are then sync'd via Evernote's online service so you can access them from anywhere via your computer, your smartphone, your tablet or via the web.

One of the most powerful features of Evernote is the Evernote Web Clipper. This tool allows you to capture the content of a webpage as a note that you can then store and organize. It's this web clipping ability that makes it one of my "go to" tools for conducting crime analysis research.

A note of caution before we dig a bit deeper. Evernote is an online service. It will sync these notes with their servers. While I believe Evernote to be reasonably secure, everyday we hear of an online service being breached and information on those services to be compromised. For this reason, I would caution crime analysts from using Evernote to store sensitive information or information that requires CJIS compliance.

While with the Evernote desktop application it is possible to store notebooks locally and not to sync them with the online service, it's still probably a good practice to avoid storing sensitive information in Evernote. Evernote does offer the ability to Encrypt Selected Text. However, it may not be CJIS compliant. All that being said for what I mainly use Evernote for, online research, this is not a big problem.

To get started with Evernote, go to their website and click the Sign Up Now or Create Account button. Accounts are free although there is an option to "Go Premium" for a modest fee. The paid premium plans give you access to some additional features such as greater storage, support, etc. However, even the free plans are incredibly useful.

Once you created an account you have the option to download the desktop applications as well as to download the web browser web clipping plugin for all the major web browsers. Even if you don't download the desktop application, I would recommend you at least download and install the browser plugin. Now we're ready to look at a workflow for research using Evernote.

The Internet has led to an explosion in the amount of information that is available. This is a good problem to have though. Evernote makes it easy to capture and organize all this information.

Let's say that you are researching a response to copper thefts. First you should probably create a Evernote Notebook to hold all your research on this problem. The first place I'd go would be the Problem Oriented Policing center's website and see if they have one of their excellent POP Guides on the topic. Hit the Evernote web clipper button on your browser and a dialog will pop up that allows you to select the Notebook, add metadata tags, etc. and then to save the web page into your Evernote notebook. You can even download the POP Guide as a PDF and attach it to a note.

Then fire up your trusty web search engine and search for "response to copper thefts". You'll get a huge list of results of news articles, tips from electric companies, etc. You can then start going through these search results to find ones relevant to your problem. Each time you find one you want to save, click the Evernote Web Clipper and you've saved a copy into your notebook.

If you have a meeting on the topic, you can create a text note to store the notes from your meeting. If you brainstorm the problem on a whiteboard, you can take a photo of the whiteboard, tag it and import it into your notebook. Get an email from a colleague on the topic? Evernote has a neat feature where you can send emails to a special email address and the email will be added as a note to your Evernote. All these ways of creating notes in Evernote allow you to capture, organize and retrieve the information you gathered during your research.

Text notes can have all the usual formatting such as bold text, bulleted lists and tables. They can also have check boxes (for to do lists) and you can even set reminders to notify you at a specific date/time. There is even a full screen "Presentation" mode for users of Evernote's Premium service in case you wanted to give a PowerPoint like presentation of your findings from within Evernote.

This is only a small taste of what Evernote is capable of. Here's a couple of good articles with some additional tips that will give you a better idea of what Evernote is capable of for crime analysts (or anyone for that matter).

PC Magazine - 20 Tips Every Evernote User Must Know

Lifehacker - I've Been Using Evernote All Wrong. Here's Why It's Actually Amazing

So what would you use Evernote for?

Monday, January 16, 2017

An Introduction to Common Policing Strategies Part 2

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. 

Last week I began a post that looked at common policing strategies and highlighted some of the differences between them. As I stated last week, I wanted to expose crime analysts who may not have come to the field from an academic background to some of the major policing strategies and terms.

They were:

  • Community Policing
  • Broken Windows Policing
  • CompStat
  • Hot Spot Policing
  • Problem Oriented Policing
  • Intelligence Led Policing
  • DDACTS

In last week’s post I covered the first three. In this post we’ll finish up the rest of them.


Hot Spot Policing
Hot Spot Policing relies heavily on the use of crime mapping technology to determine where crime is concentrated geographically and then concentrates police resources in that area. Hot spot policing relies on the fact that in many communities, a small number of geographic locations are responsible for a disproportionate number of crimes.

As it was originally implemented, Hot Spot Policing did not direct officers sent to change their strategy in these hot spots, but to just spend more time in these areas. However, combining approaches such as implementing a problem oriented policing approach in crime hot spots is likely to be much more effective that just traditional policing strategies alone.

One caution about Hot Spot Policing is that unfocused, intensive enforcement actions in hot spots can lead to community relations problems with citizens in these geographic areas. We have to remember that even though crime may be more prevalent in these areas, it does not mean that everyone who lives in these areas is a criminal.

This was one of the frequently heard complaints with “Stop and Frisk” as it was implemented in some communities. Residents in these areas felt they were under siege both by the criminals and by the police. However, a Community Policing strategy can pay dividends in a crime hot spot by engaging residents and making them a part of the process.


Problem Oriented Policing
I have to be honest, Problem Oriented Policing is my favorite policing strategy. POP uses analysis to identify and understand crime and disorder problems and then to develop effective strategies to deal with those problems.

Usually, POP deals with discrete problems such as Disorder at Budget Motels or Bicycle Thefts as opposed to broader strategies that might encompass all the crimes occurring within a community or neighborhood.

POP relies on the SARA model of scanning, analysis, response and assessment in analyzing problems. It also uses the Problem Analysis Triangle or Crime Triangle in order to understand recurring crime and disorder problems.

Another feature of POP is that it is not solely reliant on the criminal justice system to solve these problems. POP has a “whatever works” approach to dealing with these problems. For instance, if an analysis determines that a particular bar is responsible for most of the disorder in and around a nightclub district, an effective strategy might be to use zoning or alcohol regulations to reduce the influence this nightclub has on the problem.

Often times, the most practical approach to a crime and disorder problem is one that focuses on prevention as opposed to a traditional reactive law enforcement approach of arresting bad guys after a crime has been committed.


Intelligence Led Policing
Intelligence Led Policing combines policing activities with criminal intelligence gathering to understand the criminal entities that drive crime in a community. This intelligence can be used to target criminals and the criminal enterprises that pose the greatest risk to the community.

Just like Hot Spot Policing focuses on the geographic area where crime is most prevalent, Intelligence Led Policing focuses on the criminals that are most prolific.

Intelligence Led Policing requires an agency to develop a criminal intelligence function within the agency that implements the Intelligence Cycle of collection, collation, analysis, dissemination and re-evaluation of criminal intelligence.


DDACTS (Data Driven Approach to Crime and Traffic Safety)
DDACTS is a policing strategy that melds two common responsibilities of police; crime suppression and traffic safety. The idea behind DDACTS is to analyze the geographic locations of traffic accidents and crimes and to deploy traffic enforcement activities where these two types of incidents commonly intersect.

These traffic enforcement activities offer a visible deterrent for criminals operating in these areas as well as working to reduce the number of traffic accidents. Additionally, since many criminals engage in crimes while operating vehicles, these traffic enforcement operations can develop information about the criminals operating in an area.

DDACTS has the advantage of addressing these two different public safety issues at the same time.


The policing strategies we’ve looked at in the past two posts are not all the strategies out there but they are probably the most common ones. I hope that this introduction gives you a better understanding of the differences between them.

I’ve included some resources for more information. This list is by no means all inclusive but has one pretty good one for each strategy. If necessary, an Internet search engine can help you find many more.

US DOJ Community Oriented Policing Services Office

Center for Evidence Based Crime Policy Broken Windows Policing page

Police Foundation CompStat page

NIJ Hot Spot Policing page

Center for Problem Oriented Policing

National Criminal Justice Research Service Intelligence Led Policing document 

NHTSA DDACTS Site

Monday, January 9, 2017

An Introduction to Common Policing Strategies Part 1

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. 

There are a number of ways that people become crime analysts. Some analysts come from college criminology or criminal justice programs. In their schooling they are often exposed to the academic theories that underpin much of police work.

For crime analysts that come up from inside their agency, their training is often “on the job” and while they often have valuable “real world” experience, they don’t so often get exposed to the major theories and strategies of modern policing.

Much of my series of posts this year have been written with those later group of analysts in mind. Today’s post is no different as I want to take a brief look at some of the most common police strategies and terms.

We’ll look at:

  • Community Policing
  • Broken Windows Policing
  • CompStat
  • Hot Spot Policing
  • Problem Oriented Policing
  • Intelligence Led Policing
  • DDACTS

Community Policing

The US Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services defines Community Policing as:
“Community policing is a philosophy that promotes organizational  strategies, which support the systematic use of partnerships and  problem-solving techniques, to proactively address the immediate  conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.” 
Source: http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/Publications/e030917193-CP-Defined.pdf

The biggest defining characteristics of Community Policing is the idea of partnering with the community to address crime and disorder problems. Law enforcement agencies have to identify, seek out and develop relationships with community leaders, organizations and community members in order to implement this strategy.

These relationships help agencies to understand the concerns, needs and priorities of the community. They also help the agencies to communicate with the community they serve and to promote the transparency that helps the community trust in the agency.

Here’s an example of a Community Policing approach to a crime problem:

A neighborhood begins to experience a problem with vehicle burglaries during the overnight hours. As the problem is identified either by members of the community or by police, they begin to communicate with each other about the problem. The agency may send officers to community meetings or even organize community meetings where information about the problem is discussed. The agency may distribute crime prevention information to the community and seek information from the community. The problem is later mitigated by getting potential victims to protect themselves and their property and/or by identifying the offenders.

It’s worth noting that many of these strategies are compatible with other strategies. Most of them are not mutually exclusive.


Broken Windows Policing

The Broken Windows theory was developed in the early 1980’s by two sociologists. The theory states that crime and disorder will increase when minor “quality of life” crimes are not addressed. Proponents of the theory state that the presence of “broken windows” and other minor disorder if unaddressed, sends a message to the community that the community is vulnerable and lacks mechanisms to address crime.

It gets it’s name from the idea that if an abandoned building starts to be vandalized by having its windows broken, and these problems are not addressed when they are small and manageable, will turn into larger problems that blight the surrounding neighborhood.

Broken Windows Policing is a policing strategy that addresses these small, relatively minor crimes before they can fester and develop into larger crime and disorder problems. This strategy was adopted by the New York City Transit Police and later by the New York City Police in the mid 1980’s and 1990’s. Police targeted quality of life crimes such as graffiti, panhandling and public urination in order to send the message that crime and disorder was not going to be tolerated. Eventually, the number of major crimes recorded in the community began to decrease.

The theory is not without its critics as there are some who believe that this style of policing led to an over reliance on “stop and frisk” and “zero tolerance” tactics especially in minority communities. This led to the breakdown in relations between police and the community as members of the community felt they were being treated unfairly.

However, it should be noted that taking care of quality of life issues within a community do not necessarily mean police have to rely on seemingly oppressive tactics to do so. In fact it’s been my experience that people in the community are very concerned about disorder and minor quality of life crimes. The key to addressing them is likely one that engages them in a partnership that addresses them.


CompStat

The term CompStat is a contraction of the phrase “computer statistics” and is the name given to a police management technique that measures police effectiveness using crime statistics and then holds police managers responsible for reducing crime in their areas of responsibility.

CompStat’s principles:

  • Accurate and timely intelligence
  • Effective tactics
  • Rapid deployment of personnel and resources
  • Relentless follow up and assessment

In a nutshell, police agencies that practice CompStat rely heavily on crime analysis units to measure and analyze reported crimes. Managers within the agency will then regularly meet to discuss responses to crime problems and assess the effectiveness of these responses. They will continually adjust their responses in order to maximize the effectiveness of the response.

Probably the most commonly held notion of CompStat is that police managers are grilled and sometimes castigated in these meetings for crimes that occur in their areas. I know someone who attended a CompStat meeting at a large American police agency on the east coast and he said he watched a commander get publically demoted for failure to reduce the crime in his district. However, this notion of CompStat is the exception rather than the rule. Most agencies practice a “kinder, gentler” kind of CompStat.

The big key to CompStat is to measure your crime, give power and resources to the persons responsible and then determine if your response was effective.

We’ve covered the first three of our list of common policing strategies. Next time we’ll look at the rest of the list.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Understanding Times and Dates in Excel

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. 

I love the spreadsheet application Microsoft Excel. In fact, it’s my go to application for crime analysis. In spite of all the really wonderful dedicated crime analysis software packages out there, if you had nothing other than Microsoft Office (or Libre Office if your agency is really cash strapped), you could still do a great job of crime analysis. That is, if you understand how to use it.

Excel and it’s open source clone in LibreOffice are capable of some amazingly sophisticated analysis. In this post we’re going to look at how Microsoft Excel calculates dates and times. Temporal analysis or the analysis of dates and times is an important basic skill for crime analysts. Temporal analysis can help you to profile and predict when serial offenders may strike again.

Previously, I covered how to create a Temporal Analysis Heat Map in Excel to help analyze temporal data . A heat map is one way to analyze temporal data. However, it is also possible to use some basic statistics to predict when a serial offender may strike next. I covered this in the post Simple Crime Series Predictions. If we understand how Excel handles times and dates we can automate some of these calculations.

First off, we need to understand how Excel stores data in a cell.

When you type something into a cell, Excel stores more than just text in the cell. It stores formatting information such as text color, type choices such as bold, italic, underline, font or font size. It also stores information that lets Excel know what kind of data it is, such as text, a number such as currency or a percentage and most importantly for temporal analysis if the value is a time or date.

For the most part, Excel does a pretty good job of recognizing when you type a date or time into a cell. If you type 1/1/14 into a cell, it will accurately interpret that as the date January 1, 2014. However, this isn’t always the case. I frequently notice that Excel will have problems if you are exporting data from a database and importing that data into Excel. Most commonly Excel will mistakenly interpret all the values as text even if it looks like 1/1/14 in our previous example.

If Excel knows that the values entered into two cells are both dates, it can perform mathematical calculations on those values. For instance, if you have the date 1/1/2014 in one cell and 1/5/2014 in another, you can write a formula that will subtract the earlier date from the latter and return the result of 4 (days). It can also do the same with times or date/time combinations. The important part is setting the “Format Cells” dialog to the correct type.

To access this dialog you can either select the “Format Cells” command from the context menu on the Windows version of Excel by right clicking your mouse over a cell and drawing down to “Format Cells” or on the Mac version you get this menu by holding down the Control key, then clicking or the even easier way to hold down the Command key and press 1.

The Format Cells dialog looks like this:



Once you’ve got this dialog up, you can then select the Date or Time format that you find appropriate. One caveat is that if you are going to subtract one date from another or one time from another make sure that you apply the correct formatting to the cell the result goes into. For instance if you subtract 1:00 PM from 10:00 PM you are probably expecting 9:00 hours. If you select the format for Minutes and Seconds (00:00.0) you won’t get 540 minutes but instead will see 00:00.0 in the cell. In this case select Hours and Minutes (00:00) and you’ll get the proper result. There is a “Sample Result” displayed on the dialog so you can see what you are likely to get with the various options.

Now going back to the example in the post Simple Crime Series Predictions instead of typing the values for Days Between Hits in manually, we can place a formula in that cell to calculate these Days automatically.

Another thing to watch out for is if you have a mismatch in the value in the cell and the Formatting of the cell. For instance, if you’ve set the Format of the cell to Date and then enter a value that is obviously not a date such as THEFT you’ll get an error from Excel that looks like “#VALUE!” This is Excel’s way of letting you know there is a mismatch between the value you entered and what it expected based on the cell formatting.

Understanding how Excel interprets Times and Dates can help you take advantage of Excel’s ability to calculate them.