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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.

Predictive Analytics Where it Matters: Preventing Crime

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Today there is a lot of buzz about the use of predictive analytics in business.  Spurred in part by the best selling book, Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie or Die, by Eric Siegel, it seems that everyone is talking about ways to predict every major and minor event in our lives.

As with every application of technology, there are implementations that can have a higher, or lower impact on society.  At PublicEngines, we have long believed in the application of analytics to improving quality of life in general, and specifically to fighting crime.  That’s why we were pleased to announce our newest product last week: CommandCentral Predictive.

CommandCentral Predictive is a significant step forward in the use of predictive analytics to accomplishing law enforcement’s goal of preventing crime and improving our communities by making them safer.  In particular, from the time we conceived this product through to its final development, there were two things that were most important to us: accuracy and ease-of-use.

Pre-eminent in our thought process was to create a product that accurately predicts potential crime.  The entire basis of this product is to more accurately digest data and provide an accurate, unbiased view of the highest probability of crime on a daily basis.  So, the science behind it had to be sound.   That’s why we designed our prediction engine using multiple algorithms to optimize its effectiveness and verified it with extensive field-testing.

Of almost equal importance to us was to design the product with the highest ease of use.  It doesn’t matter how good the product is, if the interface isn’t easy to navigate,  it won’t be used.  So, we designed the product from the start with the idea that users need to be able to jump in the product right from the beginning with little to no training.  Then, we took that design to officers, analysts, and command staff, and asked for their input on how to make it better and we redesigned it based on their feedback (more on this in another post).  The result is something that is functional and highly usable; delivering a daily report in a way that any officer can use to improve the way they police.

With an announcement of a product like this there is no doubt that naysayers will voice their opinions.  In particular, we’ve heard those who will say that advanced crime analytics software can’t replace crime analysts.  And they are right.  That’s not our intent.  However, we know how much time analysts have and where their demands are.  Analysts spend a significant amount of time working with officers and patrol supervisors on their areas of patrol responsibility.  They’ve told us they’re overwhelmed with more work than they can handle.  CommandCentral Predictive is designed to help them take a significant demand and essentially automate the prediction of high-probability events and give them more time for analysis.  For those agencies without an analyst (a majority), this is a significant boost by giving them the tactical, directed analysis their officers need but can’t currently afford.

Others may cite instances where software has not worked well at making predictions, such as the military’s use of prediction software to forecast political unrest.  But what we have seen is that, like what you purchase, where you shop, or what you look at online, crime occurs, for the most part, in a repeatable, predictable pattern.  And our field-testing has shown that our algorithms are far more accurate in seeing both long- and short-term trends, modeling them, and learning and improving along the way.  In fact, this very field-testing has show us to be, on average, 2.7 times more accurate than traditional hotspot models at determining where the next crimes will occur.

Tim O’Reilly, the well-known media technologist, once said, “We’re entering a new world in which data may be more important than software.”  I think this is especially true in law enforcement, where enforcement officers have the data to help themselves, but have traditionally struggled through poor software tools to help them analyze it.  So, while we are proud and excited about CommandCentral Predictive, what we are most excited about is this product’s potential to unlock the patterns and intelligence in agency’s data and helping them to make better and more effective policing decisions.

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.

Gun Buyback Programs: Reducing Gun Violence or a PR Stunt?

Getting Guns Off the Streets:

A recent slew of devastating mass shootings have sparked national outcry and reinvigorated a heated debate over gun violence in America. Faced with increased pressure to respond and take action to reduce gun violence, communities are  turning to “Gun Buyback” programs–with gusto- in an effort to take guns, especially those with the capacity for mass casualty, off the streets.

Since the shootings in Connecticut a few weeks ago, dozens of cities across the US are launching buy-back programs in hope that these efforts will prevent future gun-violence . In all over 30 gun buy-back events have been held nation-wide in the weeks since the gruesome Connecticut massacre.  Many are being hailed a ‘successes’ by officials who tout record numbers of firearms being turned in to authorities. Just a few weeks ago, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa touted that law enforcement agents had collected 2,037 firearms at the city’s recent buy-back event–the most since it started its buy-back program in 2009.

Off the Streets or Out of the Attic?

LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at a buyback event in Van Nuys

While a dumpsters full of firearms looks impressive, experts dismiss the effectiveness of gun buybacks in reducing crime because these events typically attract people less likely to commit violent crimes and guns least likely to be used in a crime.  According to studies most gun-related crimes are typically committed by young men with newer firearms, while gun-buyback events typically attract an older crowd turning older guns that are often not in good working condition: hunting rifles or old revolvers from someone’s attic.

Do Buybacks Make a Dent?

Here are a few stats just to have an idea of the enormity of firearms in circulation vs. those collected by buybacks:

  • The federal government estimates that there are currently over 310 million firearms in circulation within the US, nearly one for every man, woman and child
  • In the buybacks since Sandy Hook, an estimated 10,000+ guns have been collected
  • Studies suggest that a 10% reduction in U.S. households with guns would result in only a 3% reduction in homicides
  • The guns collected by LA in their latest buy-back event, sadly account for only one day’s worth of gun sales in the state of California (2,000 firearms are bought and sold every day in the state). 

An Expensive PR Stunt?

Images of police officers taking back guns looks good on the evening news but with thousands spent by local governments to buy back guns and little evidence to prove that buybacks directly reduce gun violence, a gun buyback can come off as an expensive PR stunt.  But doesn’t have to. While gun buybacks may not directly reduce reduce gun violence, they can be used to heighten awareness and rally the community, especially when  accompanied by a grassroots outreach campaign that works with gang prevention and intervention agencies, community and religious leaders. A comprehensive outreach effort serves not only to encourage participation in neighborhoods suffering from high levels of gun violence, but also to educate communities about the risks and dangers of gun and gang violence.

What do You Say?

Do you think gun-buybacks are effective? A waste of money? PR stunts? How is your community helping to combat gun violence/crime? Share your insights and best practices in the comments section below:

School Gun Violence: Lessons Learned & Hope for the Future

Gun Violence. It’s a topic that has been dominating the headlines starting with the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, and then ignited a national bonfire of outrage and sadness with the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting from Dec. 14, 2012. It’s continued with more shootings, including the recent event at Lone Star College in Houston on Jan. 22, 2013. The issue has become even hotter, as now our schools have become seemingly common settings for mass shootings.

With each of these tragic shootings, I hear people ask about things like warning signs, and question who knew about these potential threats – and most importantly, why nothing was done. These are the same questions I ask myself.

The other trend we’re seeing explode on the national scene, is the question who is to blame? This has triggered a national debate on the controversial issue of gun control, video game violence, and mental health. While I’ve gotten caught up in the whirlwind of these important topics we face as a society, I also couldn’t help but wonder if we’re using all of the tools and technology that is available today to keep students, and our children safe.

It’s interesting to note, that when students are provided a way to confidentially share information with school officials about problems – they will! And this information is often used to stop crime, solve cases, and avoid tragedies like suicides. For example, Douglas County School District in Colorado has helped prevent a growing number of suicides by having a trusted mobile app available where students can provide tips to school officials. You can read more about this success story here.

But having the right tools in place often times isn’t enough. Take the Lone Star College shooting for example. According coverage in The Huffington Post the Lone Star College System had both an emergency alert system in place to warn students of possible scenarios like this, as well as an active shooter preparedness plan. It appears there was a break-down in both systems.

For example, according to accounts, many students learned of the shooting from media, or from the college web site, even though they had the emergency alert application installed on their phones. One theory of the failure of the emergency alert system is that many of the buildings on campus have limited, to no cell reception.

Secondarily, the particular situation at Lone Star College did not fit the definition of an active shooter in the preparedness manual, potentially stopping action, or creating some confusion. So while the institution had taken steps to prepare for this type of scary scenario through technology and training, some of these unexpected problems led to unaware students, and possibly confused staff, and local police. Luckily it didn’t turn into a broader tragedy.

Finally, in terms of preventing these crimes in the future, there is likely to be new legislation, as well as national programs to keep students and our children safer at school. We also expect to see a list of lessons learned in how to better respond to these situations in the future. While we know we can never fully prevent these tragedies, we know we can do more; we know we can do better.