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Detective Seals

About Detective Seals

Detective Daniel Seals served over 10 years at the Covington Police Department, in Covington, GA where he was responsible for creating and leading the Intelligence Division. He was also the point man/entry leader for the Newton County/Covington SWAT team. Detective Seals is a graduate of the Alpha Group and is an authority and teacher of the Intelligence-Led Policing model.

Historical Address Searches with CommandCentral

One of my favorite tasks as an intelligence analyst was to find correlations between location, suspect, and crime committed.  I can tell you firsthand however that all of the fun is taken out of that when an analyst has to do it with paper records and reports.  When I was a detective assigned to Internet crimes, I was truly a “paper hound”.  Finding details within paper and electronic records was for me, an exciting task.  I know it sounds very mundane, but finding connections where there seemed to be no connections is truly were the detective work or the work of Intel analyst rises to the top.  It is for this reason that my favorite function within CommandCentral Analytics is the key word search function.  For it is within this function that I can search a suspect’s name, business name or specific address to generate a list and map of the criminal activities that occurred around the search terms.

The first thing you need to begin this type of search is a bit of a change in your mind set.  The searches do not involve focusing on bulk sets of data, instead you should be focusing on specific addresses or neighborhoods, or family groups and specific family members coupled together with specific crime types and date ranges.  As you begin to see clusters of the same suspect or family group committing a certain type of crime in a particular area of your jurisdiction, you should then add further crime types, one by one, to visualize whether or not that suspect or family group is committing multiple crime types within the same area.  This is especially useful in investigations that revolve around gang activity.  In general, gangs have an area that they frequent and function their criminal activities around.  On the same note, gangs often have certain crime types that they specialize in.  This type of search ability allows the Intel analyst to present a clear picture of criminal activity perpetrated by one person or a group of people within a geographic area.

This method of searching within CommandCentral Analytics can produce results that are extremely gratifying and quite granular.  This is specifically the type of information that is necessary to affect tactical organizations such as; gang units, narcotics units, as well as violent crime or robbery units.  Historically this information has been difficult to obtain simply because it required the analyst to pour through a myriad of documents by hand, painstakingly taking out the specific information deemed necessary by the investigation.  Now, by using this search technique within CommandCentral Analytics, Intel analysts are much better equipped to efficiently generate reports that are immediately and tactically actionable.

Crime Dashboards Should be Used In Every Department

So what exactly is a crime dashboard?  Is this just another buzz term within law enforcement or is it truly something to be utilized to drive the department’s crime-fighting efforts? To be honest, my first thought at the word is something we’re all familiar with: the dashboard in your cruiser. It’s the central hub of your patrol car that gives you an overview on the over all health of your vehicle – amount of gas in the tank, temperature of the engine, oil pressure, speed odometer, tachometer, etc.  But that clearly isn’t the same thing.

When discussing dashboards in technology applications, business executives are very familiar with the term. They’ve been using business intelligence dashboard for clear over a

Executive BI Dashboard

Executive BI Dashboard

decade. It’s purpose is similar to the car dashboard: to inform the manager of the over all health of the company by measuring key performance indicators, like monthly revenue, number of new customers, number of renewals, and so on.

 

Likewise, a crime dashboard’s main objective should be to give you an overview of crime trends in your jurisdiction. I call this the who, what, why, when, where of crime intelligence. It should be easy to read and even easier to use in order to make policy decisions that are right for your county, city, or town. Now, there is more than one way to build a crime dashboard, so I’m going to discuss below the most important considerations for creating my own department’s crime dashboard.

But first we need to ask ourselves: what needs to be included in your crime dashboards – crime type, suspect information, narratives, maps? The answer is certainly all of these and even more. Now I will grant you this, without a specific software program that assists you in creating your crime dashboard, it can be a real chore to piece this information together by manual means, but it can be done. This is where I started before using CommandCentral Analytics, which I used for many years.

Crime Dashboards Provide Agencies an Overview of Crime at a single glance.

Crime Dashboards Provide Agencies an Overview of Crime at a single glance.

A specific software platform will certainly make the creation of your crime dashboards a much easier process – essentially a matter of minutes instead of hours or even days. I have found that the best practice tenants that I’m about to outline ring true no matter which method you use to create your dashboards. In reference to the points I’m about to make, I contend that your aim is to have all pertinent information on one screen and have the ability to drill down within your dashboard to gain greater insight.

 Considerations When Creating A Crime Dashboard

1. Make sure that you can see where your crimes have occurred.

This is generally achieved through a map visualization. I like to also supplement the mapping function with something such as a pie chart or bar chart to break down the number of occurrences with in a specific beat or zone by crime type.

2. Make sure that you can see when you’re crimes have occurred.

In this case I typically use a Time of Day/Day of Week Heat Map.  This map easily displays, through a hot/cold style visualization when the crimes are occurring by a cross-reference of time of day and day of week. That being said, this information can also be displayed in a number of other ways such as; a combination bar chart displaying the time of day and day of week.  It is very important to remember that the time of day and day of week need to both be included.  Simply looking at the time of day or the day of week on their own leaves too many questions to be answered by your viewer.

3. Make sure that the who and what of your crimes can be easily viewed.

This is undoubtedly the most difficult suggestion that I will give you.  The reason it is the most difficult is because it is the most expansive information, and thus the ability to drill down within a visual on your dashboard is invaluable. Really the only way to do this without a piece of software such as CommandCentral Analytics would be to create a secondary list that you could attach to your original dashboard. Logging in to your RMS to view this information individually simple takes too much time and negates the dashboard purpose. However, within CommandCentral Analytics I used the list function for this visual which allowed me the ability to see all the specific information about the crimes I have chosen including the responsible or reporting officer and their entire narrative.

4. Make sure your dashboards are set up in an intelligent manner and in the proper mindset for their intent.

The dashboards you create can be for a number of purposes as well as a number of divisions within your department.  Ensure that when you create each dashboard it makes sense for the application it is being created for.  For instance, a tactical dashboard for a specific narcotics case should be as specific to that case in all of its visuals as well as its time parameters as it can be.  On the other hand, a dashboard that has been created to follow a strategic plan over a long term set of crimes should be modified with time, location, and other factors so as to aid in the long term planning of the specific crime-fighting series.

To sum up, your dashboards should not be viewed as cookie cutters for every situation.  Although I believe there are certainly a set of best practice procedures that should be followed to give each of your dashboards maximum effect and usability, I also would direct you to be as individualistic as possible with each dashboard in terms to the specific problem it has been created to address. Every dashboard that you create should directly lead your agency into the proper actionable, intelligence-led decisions that will ultimately aid in reducing crime.

Crime Data Quality and Validation – A Necessity for Every Agency

Accurate Mapping is The Epicenter for Making Sense of Your Crime Data

Let’s talk about mapping. Very few mapping systems, whether you are using GIS or some other type of mapping system, are always spot on. The reasons for these inaccuracies vary widely. From inaccurate GIS mapping at the onset, to duplicate addresses in your city that are only separated by a North-South or East-West designation, or simply a user data-entry mistake. Previously, I couldn’t change these map points in my records management system, nor did I have admin over the county GIS system that would allow me to change the points. However, I can now change them with CommandCentral. Recently, PublicEngines released a new feature dubbed the Data Quality and Validation tool, or DQV for short. With just a few steps I am now able to take my map, with an average of 150 inaccuracies a month, and turn it into a completely accurate crime map, with no inaccuracies.

How My Data Accuracy Quest Began

When I began the intelligence unit at my agency in the greater Atlanta area, one of the things I noticed first off was how inaccurate our crime mapping system seemed to be. As I began looking into the problem, I found that instead of it being the result of a single error, it was actually the result of a myriad of errors. Among those, were inaccurate geocoding, areas of my city that had been annexed in but not yet geocoded, duplicate addresses within my city, and of course data entry mistakes.

Now as you can imagine, as I began to remedy this situation I felt a little like a dog chasing its tail — I was certainly moving but I wasn’t making any progress. During one staff meeting, it became even more apparent that I needed to do something about the mapping inaccuracies when we began looking at crimes broken down by zone specifics.  We looked for crimes that we knew had occurred in a certain zone so that we could speak about them as a command staff and form a tactical action plan. But when we began searching for them, we weren’t able to find the specific crimes. As I began searching within my RMS to locate these “lost” crimes, I found them all mapped outside of my city boundaries. Many of these “lost” crimes were plotted tens, hundreds, and even thousands of miles away from where they should have been.  We had a serious problem to say the least, and unfortunately, no solution.

Fast-forward to my time at PublicEngines. One of the key drivers in developing the DQV tool was the research that I conducted in proactively auditing our customer’s databases. I found very quickly that my agency, with 150 mis-maps a month, was by far not on its own. The vast majority of agencies have mapping problems that they are either not aware of, or lack the to ability to fix. This is why I am so excited to introduce to you the DQV tool. Not only will you be able to identify all occurrences mapped outside of your jurisdictional boundaries, but you will be able to correct those errors in just a few steps.

A New Solution to An Age-Old Problem

crime data, crime data qualtiyAs I’m sure you can attest, accurate data is paramount to conducting crime analysis that leads to actionable intelligence and crime reduction. The DQV tool in CommandCentral ensures that the most common data errors – mis-mapped and mis-classified crimes – are easily correctable so agency personnel can make resource decisions with confidence.

Here are a few highlights of its capabilities.

  • Built-in alert bar notifies CommandCentral Analytics administrators when incidents are geocoded outside of an agency’s jurisdiction.
  • Click-to-correct mismapped incidents – inaccurately mapped crimes can be corrected simply by clicking on the CommandCentral Map
  • Create rules so that all future data synched to CommandCentral is mapped accurately
  • Edit crime incident categorization
  • Maintain data fidelity – changes are only made in CommandCentral, not in your RMS

Identifying mis-mapped crimes is as easy as selecting an Out of Area button in the system’s administration section. The tool then generates a list of occurrences that were all mapped outside of your jurisdictional boundaries. You can select any single occurrence listed to see where it’s currently positioned on the map, and then override it. This process is easy: simply select where that occurrence should be mapped. You can change the pin for this specific incident only or for all incidents previously mis-mapped in the same manner — which is especially important when it is one of those addresses that are constantly in error.

Visualizing and analyzing crime data through crime mapping solutions has been an essential tool in every agency’s arsenal since the mid 1800’s with the advent of the pin-map. Today, online tools make the task easier than ever. But the question remains, is the data you’re viewing accurate? With the DQV tool you can now be sure of it.

Intelligence Led Policing Yardsticks: Prevention, Disruption and Enforcement

Congratulations! Your technology is set up, you’ve had your meetings, and your entire department is on the same page with regards to Intelligence Led Policing. This is going to be the next best thing since radios, Tasers, and Velcro duty belts! But alas, I’ve saved the hardest implementation step for the last: putting Intelligence Led Policing into long term action.

At the Heart of the Organization

Intelligence Led Policing is not something that can be tried for a season and then put on the shelf. In this blog series we have discussed how it must be the heart of an organizational-wide approach to policing. Intelligence Led Policing, like most new things to your department, will take an adjustment period for everyone to become comfortable in using it. No more will what I call the “shotgun method” of patrolling be adequate or effective in your department. The “shotgun method” of patrolling consists of driving around in your zone checking your buildings, answering calls, and otherwise seeing if you can drive up on something.keystone cops No, as you learned, there is a much more effective way to direct your patrols to where they need to be and when they need to be there utilizing the intelligence that you already have at your disposal. By using your geographic and hotspot maps, and time of day/day of week charts to direct patrol, your officers stand a much greater chance to prevent or disrupt a criminal pattern in their area.

Specialized Reports per Team Keys Intelligence Led Policing Success 

And patrol is not the only beneficiary of your new Intelligence Led Policing initiative. Your department’s special teams will certainly benefit from this newfound directive. I’m a big believer in specialized reports for special teams — such as narcotics, traffic, detective bureau and SWAT. For instance, in my career I created specialized reports for narcotics that not only showed the house that they were investigating, but the houses in close proximity that were also dealing narcotics. The obvious benefit of these reports would be to show possible networks of narcotics sales localized in certain neighborhoods. An added benefit, and a safety benefit, would be to use those maps when planning undercover operations so as not to base your operation near a house with similar criminal activity that might compromise your location.

For my traffic teams, reports on specific streets where the most speeding tickets were written might indicate where we would need to set up a speed reduction device such as a traffic monitoring trailer or red light camera.

I routinely produced reports based solely on the cases assigned to my detectives division separated by property and persons crimes. I was able to show, through various visualizations, where the majority of each zone-assigned detective’s cases were originating from, and from a historical view of that report, estimate the seasonal caseload that each detective might expect so that they might focus on their most prolific and serious offenders.

And finally, for my SWAT team, I was able to create a report that showed, through the use of geographical satellite maps and criminal activity overlay, the best possible access route to a target location. For instance, I would create a map with a target location in the center of the map. I would then overlay similar crimes along the planned route to that target location. With that information, we were able to layout our safest route to the target location, avoiding any locations with similar criminal activity in order to minimize the possibility of conflict or identification before the target location.

Think Beyond Known Limitations

My best advice to you and your department as you begin this new Intelligence Led Policing chapter, would be to look outside the box that we all create for ourselves within each department. Ask yourself, how would this information, visualized in a different way, help better the department? Ask your staff, if I could improve one thing about how I receive information on crimes, what would it be? Then work with those suggestions to tailor your Intelligence Led Policing approach specifically toward your department’s needs. Do not assume that just because you are used to a certain reporting style or visualization, that it’s the best way or the only way to create that report. Like most cops, I have a strange sense of humor, and therefore really enjoy de-motivational posters. You know, the ones that look like motivational posters, but actually have a cynical or smart alec way of looking at things. My favorite of these posters kind of sums up my approach to breaking out of our predetermined boxes to reach new levels of policing. It’s a picture of a group of men participating in the “Running of the Bulls.” In this particular picture, one of the men is about to get the business end of a bull – if you know what I mean. The caption on the poster reads “Tradition. Just because we’ve always done it this way, doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly stupid.” Challenge yourself to take your intelligence products to a new level. Prove to your staff and colleagues that the department could be doing even more to ensure the safety of its citizens. And never let tradition rule the day just because it’s the way things have always been done.

As always, I appreciate your comments and feedback. I encourage you to comment here or send me a note at daniel.seals@publicengines.com.

Intelligence Led Policing Yardsticks: Staff Meetings That Lower Crime

So you are nearly ready to kick Intelligence Led Policing into high gear! Your data is right, your training is in place, your command structure and your officers are ready to go. So now what? The next step admittedly requires something that very few of us enjoy: meetings. Meetings are however integral part of Intelligence Led Policing. Strategic and tactical meetings are the most effective methods of disseminating “game plan” information throughout your department. Don’t think of these in the same terms that you think about your current meetings though. These meetings should have a completely different feel to them. Instead of being filled with facts and spreadsheets, these meetings should go way beyond simple numbers. They should answer the question “now what?” As in, “well that’s nice data and all, but now what?”

Let’s look at your staff meeting for instance. In general, most staff meetings are simply crime numbers and maybe a few maps. The meeting generally sounds like this, “we had five of these, 12 of those, blah blah blah,” on and on. Keep in mind I’m speaking from experience here. If I am poking fun at anyone, then I am poking at myself first and foremost. The very first staff meeting that I began with was built around the basic Comp Stat concept. While there is certainly nothing wrong with Comp Stat, the way we were utilizing the method, left us with PowerPoint slides filled with raw data — lacking the “now what?” element. Following the teachings of Intelligence Led Policing, we transformed our staff meeting from a series of reports based on raw numbers, to a fully interactive crime fighting meeting. We did not just look at and study our current crime trends, we compared those trends to historical patterns to assist us in determining the possibility of future patterns. I spoke earlier about strategic and tactical meetings and the importance of having both. Using what we have learned from Intelligence Led Policing, we were able to utilize our staff meeting for both long-term strategic planning as well as short-term tactical crime-fighting plans.

Productive Meetings Include More Than Raw Data

Let me explain what I mean. For starters, I transformed our PowerPoint staff meeting presentation to move from a list of numbers to included charts, satellite maps, heat maps, graphs, and time of day/day of week charts — visualizations for our crime data instead of just list of crimes. I also did not keep myself handcuffed to just the PowerPoint. While using PowerPoint was very important, especially when it came to record keeping, it’s was also key to move beyond simple slides and step into making our meeting more visually engaging and interactive.

intelligence led policing dashboard, crime analytics software

Incorporating real-time intelligence with custom visualizations into your meetings will move them from straight strategic to tactical.

The way I bridged that gap was by having a large drop down projector screen in the middle our meeting room, and then I had two flat screen televisions flanking each side of the projector screen. The flat screen televisions were connected directly to a laptop that I was controlling so that I could show live and historical data in real-time to my command staff – this was in conjunction with the PowerPoint presentation. A typical meeting would consist of reviewing the past month’s crime data – specifically what happened, where it happened, and when it happened. In most meetings, however, questions would arise in relation to crimes that might have a common thread, suspect, or geographic area. The best part is that as questions arose, we were able to transition the meeting on the fly from strategic to tactical; something that was only possible because of the live crime data feed coming from our analytics solution.

Deep Insights and Collaboration Lead to Arrests

I remember one time in particular, a lieutenant was giving a report about some burglaries in his zone.  He was telling the staff about the particular m.o. that his suspect displayed when a different lieutenant from another zone spoke up that he was having similar style burglaries.  At that point a captain had remembered some burglaries from years past that had the same style and mentioned a suspects name, he added that this suspect liked to walk to his crimes.  A quick check of the prison records showed that he had very recently made parole and was living at his mothers address.  I then centered my live map on the suspects mothers’ house and showed the burglaries in question in relation to that house. All of the burglaries in question were within walking distance of his mothers’ house.  Of course, at that point, our detectives took over and were able to close the case based on that information.

I have a few other stories like this to share. And I’m confident that when you move in this direction, you will too. I encourage you to begin the transformation of your department’s meetings with your command staff meeting, and then use that general template for your other meeting needs. Starting with your staff meetings is an excellent vehicle for instructing your command staff on this new Intelligence Led Policing style. It will also allow your command staff to become comfortable enough to conduct their own meetings using this much more efficient and effective style of crime-fighting.

I’d love to hear similar stories and field any questions you may have. Feel free to comment here and/or send me an email at daniel.seals@publicengines.com.