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?

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