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Four Steps To Effectively Using Crime Data in Law Enforcement

It’s no secret that law enforcement agencies are consistently being asked to do more with fewer resources. Budget cuts have meant fewer feet on the street and ever increasing demands on agencies and officers alike. To meet these growing demands, many agencies are increasingly relying on technology to fill that gap.

There are four important steps to make sure that you’re using data to its fullest potential.

1. Collecting the data

The fact of the matter is there is a plethora of data available. Useful data may include department-specific information such as:

  • Recent bookings
  • Various types of crimes that have been committed
  • Calendar of when crimes occurred
  • Maps of where illegal activities took place
  • Written citations

However, according to Doug Wylie, Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, some cities take it a step further to include a much greater holistic view of the community a department serves to include everything from utilities and social services records to new building permits.

2 . Accurate Data

Recently, one big city police department announced it would no longer be releasing monthly crime reports because the Excel files they used to distribute the information were being corrupted. Someone had been changing the data the public viewed. This follows the accusations a couple of years ago that the New York Police Department had been falsifying data.

Audits by PublicEngines reveals that up to 25% of all law enforcement data housed in RMS or CAD systems is not accurately recorded.

However, there are ways to improve data accuracy. According to a recent report, some of the variables that agencies should consider include:

  • Data that is correctly captured. This is crucial because there are myriad of codes, statutes and other minor details that allow for human error. Information can be mislabeled or mapped incorrectly. Regular review and comparison can help catch errors and ensure greater accuracy.
  • Quality report writing that includes correct classifications, a built-in multiple-level review processes, and a system to all for reclassification, supplements and follow-up reports to be reviewed, approved and added.
  • Regular audits of reports to verify accuracy. This might also include periodic surveys of randomly selected citizens, who have reported criminal activity to verify your records accurately reflect the facts as they were reported.

3. Adequately Interpreted Data

Those agencies with analysts rely on these hard-working people to identify crime trends. But they’re stretched thin. The ability for officers to predict crimes not only relieves some of the pressure on analysts, it also helps reduce crime. Access to this information is the key factor.

But with sheer amount of data now being gathered, is there room to interpret it in a way that predicts even more crime?

Take some of the non-criminal data that agencies are gathering that was mentioned by PoliceOne’s Wylie. An officer knows that construction sites often experience the theft of materials, vandalism and graffiti. If he also knows from new building permits that construction is under way in several projects, redirecting himself to those areas can significantly reduce the potential for those crimes.

4.Getting data into hands of those that take action

As the above example illustrates, when officers on the street have access to data, they can act accordingly. However, that can prove a challenge.

Products like CommandCentral Predictive, work to eliminate those challenges. Since it’s cloud-based, it is available literally anywhere it is needed so long as an Internet connected device is available. Reports can even be sent directly to officers via email automatically.

Officers in the field are hardly desk jockeys, which is why allowing them to access the information while in the field via their mobile phone or tablet is so important. It can literally be the difference between a crime being prevented and a crime occurring.

Data is available – maybe even too much data is available – but there are ways to harness that information to help predict and prevent crime. Collecting that data from a wide variety of sources, ensuring its accuracy and interpreting its value are important first steps. However, utilizing technology – getting this information to officers wherever they may be – allows them to predict crime and make the streets safer for everyone.

Timely Crime Data that is Easy to Interpret Leads to Better Law Enforcement Decisions

Organizations of all types, especially law enforcement agencies, are being buried in Big Data. As defined by Wikipedia, the term Big Data  represents data so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process.

The same problem can also referred to as Information Overload, and aside from the technical challenges to Big Data, too much information can be difficult to access, store, share, and be useful. In today’s more electronic world, we aren’t in jeopardy of being buried in paper – rather the biggest threat of all is that the data goes unused.

Useful information leads to better knowledge, and thus better decision-making.  A typical approach to managing data and information can be:

  1. Collect raw data
  2. Sort into useful information
  3. Analyze information
  4. Share findings
  5. Information is turned into useful knowledge

The Information Sharing Environment (ISE) provides vital information about terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and homeland security to analysts, operators, and investigators in the U.S. government. From ISE’s Website:

A fundamental component of effective enterprise-wide information sharing, for example, is the use of information systems that regularly capture relevant data and make it broadly available to authorized users in a timely and secure manner.

While focused on activities mostly related to terrorism, ISE acknowledges its ideas of data sharing are extremely effective in local law enforcement as well.

In law enforcement, timely and accurate information is vital; as untimely or inaccurate information simply causes problems. PublicEngines audits show that up to 25% of all law enforcement data housed in RMS or CAD systems in the average agency is not accurate – often mislabeled or improperly mapped. This can lead to a poor allocation of resources and confusion.

However, some agencies struggle with sharing relevant and timely information at all. Time spent reporting, analyzing, and distributing information can be tedious, and time-consuming. And with up to 59% of agencies stating there is a lack of staff for crime analysis, it’s no surprise the critical information is often not shared.

The lessons are clear – sharing data that is relevant, timely, and easy to interpret, is an effective way to become more efficient in law enforcement.

PublicEngines recently announced it has added Email Reports to its widely popular CommandCentral Analytics solution. You can read the announcement here: PublicEngines Launches Email Reports for CommandCentral

Creating more tools that allow for easier sharing of critical information is a step in the right direction of tackling this challenge of too much information for law enforcement. This is especially true when the information shared is easy-to-read and interpret. The more people that have access to timely and valuable information, the better law enforcement decisions will be made.

So, how is timely and relevant information shared at your agency? Do you have an internal process, meeting, or technology solution that works particularly well for you? Let us know in the comments section.

Hot Spot Policing Reduces Crime in Real World Experiment

Today there is an abundance of theories about different strategies and tactics police departments can implement to reduce crime and save tax payer money. Unfortunately, like many theories, they can be difficult to measure, and prove – or disprove.

I recently came across an article in Dispatch called A Hot Spot Experiment: Sacramento Police Department that took the so-called Koper curve theory of hot spot policing, and put it to a real world test.

The Sacramento Police Department tested out the theory, which states that certain neighborhoods or locations will have an unequal distribution of crime when compared to other locations in the same area. The higher crime areas are called hot spots, and the theory says that when there is a visible police presence in these hot spots, crime will drop.

Hot Spot Map

The CommandCentral Heat Map shows density of crime by time per agency patrolling area.

The experiment outlined a ranking of Hot Spots, and two separate groups (Hot Spot Policing, and Routine Patrols) were assigned. Hot Spot Policing was defined as having police officers who are highly visible in the assigned Hot Spot for 12-16 minutes every two hours.

The Sacramento Police Department tested the theory over a three month period. Following are some of the findings of that real world study:

  • Crimes in areas that used Hot Spot Policing decreased by 25 percent
  • Officer productivity improved due to Hot Spot Policing
  • Hot Spot Policing lead to significant cost savings (almost $300,000 over the three month period)

So, while this is only one real world experiment that seemed to show benefits to implementing the Koper curve theory of hot spot policing, more research can be done. I also found it interesting to see how vitally important accurate crime data and statistics are to implementing a technique such as Hot Spot Policing. Accurate crime data allowed Sacramento PD to identify Hot Spots, and track the impact of its experiment. Ultimately it seems, having the ability to collect, track, and analyze crime data, leads to better knowledge, and thus better decision-making.

Congratulations to the Sacrament Police Department for using their data to implement Intelligence Led Policing systems that lower crime, and save money. To read more about this experiment, visit http://cops.usdoj.gov/html/dispatch/06-2012/hot-spots-and-sacramento-pd.asp

 

Boston Marathon Bombings & Social Media: Law Enforcement Got It Right!

It was after 11:00 p.m. and I was sitting safely on the couch in my living room, more than 2,300 miles away from the chaos in Boston. I had shut off the television and was about to log off my laptop, and head to bed, when I read a post from a journalist friend of mine who lives in San Diego saying: It’s going down in Boston right now! with links to a few Twitter feeds covering the breaking news.

I, like a lot of Americans, had been closely following the events following the terrible bombings at the Boston Marathon. I opened Twitter, and found the @NewsBreaker account.  Managed by David Begnaud, the Twitter account was posting breaking news Tweets every few minutes as the events unfolded in Boston. From @NewsBreaker, I found a link to the Boston Police Scanner, and was able to listen in as well. And, I was crazy enough to also have CNN on my television.

About four hours later, I shut everything down, and went to bed. To me, I learned several things that night about the amazing power of social media, as well as some of the real pitfalls.

NEWS MEDIA FAIL

After following the story that week, it became obvious to me I needed to identify credible sources of information. In the hunt for breaking news and ratings, much of the news media failed at being credible sources. CNN, for example, earlier in the week mis-reported that an arrest had been made – and additionally that the suspect was a “dark skinned male.” Both were false, and law enforcement later corrected them by going to Twitter and issuing statements about the false news. But it was too late. The news of an apprehended suspect spread like wildfire on the Internet, only to be withdrawn later.

Additionally, The New York Post falsely put out a series of incorrect news stories, including a cover story that included a large photograph of innocent people, leading many to conclude they were the bombers, and potentially putting their personal safety at risk. The Post had also included reports of a “Saudi national” in connection with the bombings that proved untrue.

You can read more about these media failures with these news stories:

CNN’s double breakdown: So much for ‘abundance of caution

Media Criticize New York Post, CNN For Boston Marathon Bombings Coverage

LAW ENFORCEMENT GOT IT RIGHT

After being duped a few times by traditionally credible news sources, I turned to official law enforcement for the most accurate news. Specifically: @Boston_Police (Boston Police Department), and @EdDavis3 (Boston Police Commissioner) on Twitter. Their motives had nothing to do with getting a news scoop, or ratings; rather their motives were public safety, and accurate communication. In addition to the amazing job these individuals and groups did in protecting citizens and capturing the suspects – they also did a fantastic job using modern tools like social media.

This event has made it clear that law enforcement must embrace and use new technologies to communicate with the public. I have tried to imagine what it would have been like if I lived in Watertown, Mass., during the town lockdown as law enforcement worked to capture the suspects. It would have been terrifying. And, as I’ve discussed in this blog post, the media proved to not be a reliable source of information. Naturally Watertown residents turned to the most credible sources they could find – ultimately this was law enforcement.

Here are some of the best Tweets from the Boston PD and other credible sources.

Boston Police Dept. TwitterBoston Police Dept. TwitterBoston Police Dept. Twitter

Boston Police Dept. Twitter

Boston Police Ed DavisBoston Police Ed Davis Twitter

Boston Police Dept. Twitter

Boston Police Dept. Twitter

In closing, law enforcement agencies today can distribute important information to the public through a variety of means, including websites, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. It’s vital agencies provide ways the public to access this information on their smart phone through tools like CityConnect, which integrates many online agency websites into one smart phone application. Agencies can learn more about using the power of social media in The Definitive Guide for Social Media Engagement for Law Enforcement.

 

Law Enforcement to Community Communication – dialogue, not monologue

For many law enforcement agencies, when asked if they have a social media program, their answer will be something like, “yes, we have a Facebook page, and Twitter account.” A good start, but as a standalone, this doesn’t exactly define a program.

Many agencies struggle to gain traction once they launch an agency Facebook page. Take for example, the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office that was recently featured in the PublicEngines Definitive Guide to Social Media Engagement for Law Enforcement Agencies 2013. The agency launched its Facebook page, but after three years, only had about 200 Likes, and almost no engagement or interaction with the community. Almost by accident, the Agency went from 200 Likes to several hundreds when hurricane Sandy hit as people in the community were searching for credible sources about the storm and public safety issues.

We can learn from the spike in Likes and engagement Niagara experienced, and it can be done without the help of a hurricane!

The Guide to Social Media Engagement list six ideas for growing your audience and engaging with them:

  1. download The Definitive Guide to Social Media Engagement for Law Enforcement AgenciesHold an Launch Event. Many agencies have successfully hosted a social media launch event (Facebook) by tying into an existing community events. Another example was when the Virginia State Police Department launched its Facebook page on the anniversary of a community-known unsolved homicide.
  2. Obtain Publicity. Most agencies have good working relationship with local media. By issuing a news announcement & having news stories about the social media initiative, agencies can gain awareness, likes/followers, and begin the engagement process.
  3. Promote Social Media Profiles on Agency Website. In addition to making people aware the profiles exist, agencies can also ask questions on the website, and ask the community to provide comments on its social sites.
  4. Use Email to Promote Social Sites & Engage. From including links to social sites in email signatures, to direct outreach emails asking for Likes, or community-related questions, email can be a great way to communicate.
  5. Maintaining Engagement. By providing consistent and predicable information that is useful, actionable, compelling, and sharable with others, fans and followers will begin to anticipate and look forward to these posts. Engagement is sure to follow.
  6. Use CityConnect. All citizens to access all of the agencies social media and web CityConnectaccounts to citizens through their smart phones to make connecting and engagement easy, and always available. CityConnect is an agency-branded mobile app that does just that. From allowing people to deliver crime tips, to accessing CrimeReports, and even for emergency updates, there is no better way to connect with people today than through their smart phone.

The full Guide contains more details, and useful case examples. You can download it here.