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?

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