Crime analysis has become standard practice in American law enforcement as the increasing availability of real-time data and advanced analytics software equips criminal justice professionals with enhanced tools for fighting crime and boosting public safety.
According to a 2014 study by the Police Executive Research Forum, 85% of agencies use crime analysis, with about 95% of respondents agreeing that local departments would be focusing more resources on crime analysis, data collection and real-time intelligence.
The New York City Police Department (NYPD) announced in 2015 that it would be investing heavily in technology, including equipping every one of its 34,500 officers with a smartphone and every patrol car with a tablet computer. Those initiatives are aimed at giving officers with the nation’s largest police department direct access to information and real-time analysis.
“Technology and data are the most vital tools for policing in the 21st Century,” the department said.
What is Crime Analysis?
The International Association of Crime Analysts (IACA) describes crime analysis as “both a profession and a set of techniques” that seek to make law enforcement agencies “more effective through better information.”
Crime analysts study relationships between crimes (robbery, burglary, etc.) and disorder (for example, noise complaints, domestic disputes and suspicious activity), as well as factors linked to criminal activity, such as time, location and socio-demographics. Quantitative and qualitative data collection, analytical methods and statistical techniques are used for crime mapping and predictive policing.
In addition to highlighting crime and disorder issues, and developing crime prevention strategies, the incorporation of analytics into law enforcement helps agencies evaluate the effectiveness of their crime-fighting tactics and strategies. Such efforts can fall into a variety of categories, including:
- Tactical Analysis includes descriptive statistics and summary information, such as weekly crime/arrest counts, year-to-year crime comparisons and suspect bulletins. Police departments can collect data from the public through reports, as well as surveys on topics such as community problems, victimization and satisfaction with policing efforts.
- Operational Data can spotlight problematic patterns and help agencies develop effective solutions. Agencies may use data-driven strategies such as hot spots (focusing on high-crime areas), intelligence-led (emphasizing the collection and sharing of information) and problem-oriented (identifying crime and disorder problems) policing, as well as correlational analysis to create response methods.
- Strategic Analysis can incorporate long-term planning, workforce optimization and program evaluation. Analysis of data can help law enforcement leaders to better assign agency resources when and where they are most needed.
Does Crime Analysis Work?
The increasing adoption of crime analysis by law enforcement agencies appears to support its effectiveness as a crime-fighting tool for the digital age.
Nearly 9 in 10 law enforcement officials nationwide believe data analysis and intelligence-led tactics help their agencies solve crimes by quickly identifying trends and links among perpetrators, according to a 2015 survey by Wynyard Group, a provider of crime-fighting software.
Law enforcement veteran Mark Stallo, PhD, is a lieutenant with the Dallas Police Department and teaches a course on Crime Analysis as part of Florida Tech’s Criminal Justice program. In recent years, he said, the use of databases, spreadsheets and mapping systems have allowed organizations worldwide to improve their data analysis capabilities and make better decisions.
Stallo said the Dallas department has “had success using crime analysis in a number of areas,” including stopping arsons and robberies by systematically examining patterns in the location and sequence of events.