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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.

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: Training

So what if I told you that I had a new pistol for your officers to use?  This is no ordinary pistol, oh no, this pistol will improve your officers’ range scores by 20% across the board, the ammo will cost 50% less than what you are paying now, and each pistol comes with its own level 9 holster!   What is level 9 you say? Well it’s a new safety level that we have invented that will improve your officers’ weapon retention ability!  Does the new holster require training to use you ask? Well sure….or you can just hand them out and see what happens.

Of course none of you would send your officers out onto the road without the proper training, especially with something as eternally important as their weapon. Now, I have not invented a great new weapon or a “level 9″ holster for it. Sorry. The point I want to make is that training is at the heart of all good departments.  When we receive new equipment, before we hand it out and send our troops on their way, we train them in the proper use of that new equipment. Without proper training, we cannot expect our officers to perform to their best ability. The same is absolutely true for Intelligence Led Policing.

Don’t Be Too Cool For School

In this blog series, we have covered a massive amount of information about Intelligence Led Policing.  If any of you who have followed my blog series so far have not at some point thought, “I bet this takes some training to implement,” then I’d say you’ve hit the nail on the head.  Please understand, starting with an Intelligence Led Policing

blackboard

methodology is no small change. It is a major shift that must be embraced and trained upon by the entire department. And although it is tempting to place “someone” into the role of Intel Analyst role, please do not make the mistake of only expecting them to be trained in the proper implementation and use of Intelligence Led Policing. This ultimately places your brand new Intel Analyst into the unenviable position of having to complete Intel reports and then explain to those for whom he prepared the reports for as to why he did it this way and the methodology behind it. You will soon find that your new analyst will be spending more time explaining reports then analyzing reports. Now, I understand that you may have budgetary or time concerns when it comes to training to this scale; as a matter of fact, an Assistant Chief of Police from Michigan and I were discussing this very issue recently. But what we both agreed upon is that if we fully believe that something will greatly enhance the crime fighting abilities of our officers and thus improve the safety of our citizens, we can generally find the funding for it.

So, what does this training look like?

Here are some guidelines to go by when looking for a  training program.

Make sure the program:

-Facilitates skills of all rank levels. While not every officer is an analyst, every officer should understand the goal of the analysis. It’s what I like to call, from the Chief to the Street. Your patrol officers – or street cops – should understand basic reporting without the need for long meetings or extended multi-day training courses to explain them. Likewise, in time, they may even learn to pull basic reports themselves.

-Teaches training methods to key members of the department in order to enable them to do entry level training for their officers.

-Uses visual aids in order to demonstrate the true visual efficacy of Intelligence Led Policing

-Monitors and evaluates each student throughout the training in order to accurately gauge their individual performance

-Has a practicum at the end of the training, to ensure success.

-All students should receive post training feedback and continuing education goals.

Now the big question, where do you obtain such training?  Well, I obtained my training from The Alpha Group Center for Crime & Intelligence Analysis Training. Although they are based in California, I did not have to travel to them. They taught their training program at my state training facility.

Now, there are other organizations that have intelligence training programs. I encourage you to contact your state training facility, local colleges or universities, or perhaps a software vendor that you use to see what they have to offer. But I will also say that it has been my experience that many of these organizations teach Crime & Intelligence Analysis to the individual analyst — but not exactly how to implement Intelligence Led Policing within your department for everyone.  Ask a lot of questions to better understand what core student profiles their material targets. It is of the utmost importance that any training on the subject includes a holistic and inclusive effort to educate all force members. As Chief William Bratton once said in 2007, speaking about Intelligence Led Policing, ” … Currently, without a national strategy, or a place where police executives can learn how to implement ILP, it is sitting on the shelf unused.”

Intelligence Led Policing isn’t another fad. And it isn’t a wave of the future. It’s here. It’s among us. And for the few agencies that are fully embracing it, it is paying dividends in the form of more accurate intel that leads to more effective policing decisions that ultimately lower crime.

Intelligence Led Policing Yardsticks: Data Cleansing and Management

So let’s start piling in the data! Right?

Not just yet cowboy; pull back the reigns for just a minute. I know you’re anxious to get your Intelligence Led Policing initiative up and running, but don’t skip the most important step: making sure the data you are going to feed into your intelligence system isn’t garbage! We’ve all heard the term, “garbage in, garbage out.” Well, the data integration between an RMS/CAD system with an analytics solution is where that term really comes to life.  So many agencies I speak to have unwittingly made the mistake of pushing data into an intelligence system without vetting that data first.  What makes it worse is that most of these agencies won’t figure out that they pushed bad data into their system until they begin to get results from that system that doesn’t make sense.  Some of the most common results they will see as a result of bad data are:

  • Maps will be a mess
  • Multiple crime types getting bulked together (think murder, rape, theft, lumped together in an “other” category)
  • And generally, their numbers won’t jive with what they know to be true

So let’s talk about your data; I mean really talk about why it is so important to spend time on your existing data set to make sure that it is clean, standardized, and accurate.  Don’t assume that your data set is correct. It may be a difficult thing for you to do, but I want you to assume that you data set is “generally” correct, but needs verification before it is trusted.  As President Reagan said so often, “Trust, but verify”. Now don’t get me wrong, you can certainly use your existing data, as it sits, without verification, for your intelligence initiative.  You can pull intelligence from that un-vetted data set and distribute that intelligence throughout your department.  But, without verifying your data, your intelligence will be wrong.

Data verification is the key to good intelligence.

So how do you verify your data?  Here are a few areas to check in what I would consider the most common error categories, and steps to take to correct any mistakes you may find.

1.   Maps - Most commonly our mapping data, whether from GIS, Google, Lat/Long, or address, is far from perfect.  As a matter of my experience, I would say that maps are one of the most inaccurate, yet one of the most desired data sets for an agency.

crime map, crime mapping, crime reports

Crime map data comes from a variety of technologies.

Meaning, we all want good maps, but very few of us actually have such.

Why? – There are a multitude of reasons that our maps leave a lot to be desired, such as: inaccurate input from our officers and dispatch, duplicate addresses resulting from some unknown oddity in city planning, and GIS, Google and other mapping systems simply putting the map point in the wrong place. Very few of these, other than officer/dispatch mistake, are under our control.  This is what makes the mapping issue such a big problem, many of us just throw up our hands and exclaim, “it’s out of my control, so we’ll just have to live with it.”

Effect – By leaving bad mapping to its own devices, we are allowing our data to be tainted.  In essence, we are saying, we don’t really care about those crimes that are mapped incorrectly, we will just rely on the crimes that are mapped correctly.  Of course, this is false logic because, as we all know, especially Intelligence Led Policing  should be an “all crimes” approach.  With an “all crimes” approach, we know we are getting the entire picture. Without it, we are only getting a biased view.

Solution – The first step is training – make sure your officers and dispatchers are entering the addresses correctly.  After that is done, choose a software solution, such as the one I use, CommandCentral by PublicEngines, that allows you to identify incorrect mapping points and move them to their correct location.  I have seen many software solutions, records management systems included, that allow the user to see incorrect mapping points, but very few allow the user to move those bad points to where they really need to be.  CommandCentral, however, has gone one step further than just allowing you to identify and move your mapping points, it has streamlined that entire process down to just a few clicks of the mouse.  I am able to look at all of my crimes over a particular date range in the entire city, un-click my zone designations, and then click a tab called “outside” that shows all of my crimes that mapped outside of my zone designations.  I can utilize the administration tools to move mis-mapped crimes to their proper location.  A quick solution to a menacing problem.

2. Crime Types – Used widely by agencies to easily designate the difference between certain crimes, such as Burglary Residential and Burglary Commercial, these designations have quickly gotten out of hand in many jurisdictions.  What I mean by out of hand is that many agencies have found themselves with so many crime types, some have 400, 500, or more, that they have a hard time keeping the designations separate.

Why? –  Let’s face it, so many times it is much easier for an officer to pick Theft/Other than it is to find the exact designation that the crime demands, especially when there are so many options. Whats more is that in so many records management systems, in order to run a report on a parent crime type such as theft, you have to run multiple individual reports on each crime type designation within that parent theft designation.  And sometimes, an officer incorrectly categorizes a crime.  He may write a burglary report, when in actuality, it should have been a theft report.

Effect –  You find your data is scattered all over your records management system.  For instance, in order to run a report of the thefts in your jurisdiction, you have to go to multiple report tables, run multiple reports, and then you still have to compile, generally manually, all of those records into one document.

Solution –   Like Maps, the first step is training. Make sure you train your staff the proper way to designate each crime and more than that, make sure they know why it is so important to properly designate each crime.  The second step then is to revert back to your software solution to make this whole process easier for you.  I again refer to CommandCentral, it allows me to easily bulk my various crime types into easy-to-understand quick tabs.  Meaning then, that all of my various thefts are bulked into one tab simply called “Theft,” while still allowing me to just choose one type of theft and generate a report on it alone if needed. The system also allows me to bulk these crime types myself. That way, if I want to move a specific crime type to another category, I can do so with ease.

3. Numbers – Truly at the heart of the matter aren’t they?  The chief wants them, the city council wants them, even the FBI wants them. But if the data problems we spoke of earlier are not right, then your numbers are surely off as well.

Why? – There is a direct correlation between your numbers being off and the data supporting your numbers being off.  As go the earlier topics, so goes your numbers, and so on.

Effect – So many times we are in a rush to get the numbers out that we forget the correlation.  As a result of putting out bad numbers, we all look poorly to those we have created the report for. We are working with something the likes of a living organism, all parts must work together for all the parts to work correctly.

Solution – Begin by correcting all of the areas that you would get your numbers from, such as the areas we spoke of earlier. Please be diligent about this. You must understand that if your data sets are not correct, then there is no way your numbers, which come from those data sets, can be correct.

In closing, I want us to all remember an old saying some of us were taught in mandate    school: “The Fruits of the Poisonous Tree.” Use it as a guide for our Intelligence Led Policing.  If we use bad data (the poisonous tree) in our intelligence initiative, then the intelligence that we get out of that bad data (the fruit), is corrupt, misleading, and all around garbage. Your Intelligence Led Policing initiative lives and dies on the quality of the data you feed it. Feed it good, accurate data, and it will thrive, feed it fruits of the poisonous tree and it will wither and die.

 

 

Intelligence Led Policing Yardsticks – Department-wide Roll Out

All Aboard The ILP TrainTrain

No, this article is not about trains, but chances are the sub-title has got you wondering. When you think about it, the concept of Intelligence Led Policing is not unlike a train itself. A train  is “a series of railroad cars moved as a unit by a locomotive or by integral motors.”  So when you speak of a train, you speak of all of the cars linked together moving down the track toward one common destination.This analogy should be the same for the functionality of our departments. Theoretically we should be moving toward the same destination. Unfortunately that’s not often the case.

In my last blog entry I wrote that to introduce Intelligence Led Policing to your department first required a supportive and informed command structure. So now that our command structure has bought in to the concept, we need that information to be distributed throughout the entire department. Easier said than done. As law-enforcement entities we have a tendency to compartmentalize ourselves into different divisions or groups. The great majority of which have a purposeful and utilitarian role; patrol units, criminal investigation units, crime scene units, community outreach units, support services units, and the list goes on. However, these necessary yet compartmentalized units are a double edged sword. What I mean is, all of this compartmentalization adds to one of our departments greatest hurdles: where the right-hand doesn’t know what the left-hand is doing. We all know and experience this problem day in and day out. No matter which of these units you find yourself in, very seldom do you understand the scope of direction of each individual department.

Department-wide Roll Out

It is for this very reason that when you implement Intelligence Led Policing into your organization, it is imperative that you move forward with a Department-wide Roll Out. Do not fall victim to the line of thinking that says the only person(s) in your department that needs to be trained in Intelligence Led Policing are those that are in your ILP division. This is the same line of thinking that believes ILP can work based on ILP staff issuing reports to the department anchored solely on the training and information only the ILP staff know. In reality that kind of thinking just leads to a lack of trust and belief in the system because it all hovers around one individual or a group of individuals that seem to “hold the keys.” Allow your trained Intelligence Led Policing staff to introduce and train the rest of your department in how the methodology works and how each department member can and should have a role in the process. This way everyone becomes a stakeholder with key roles and responsibilities, guiding them to take ownership in the program’s success. This approach holds true for departments large and small – even those that can’t afford to have an ILP division with multiple people in it. No matter how you decide to implement Intelligence Led Policing into your agency, it must be implemented and trained upon at a departmental scale.

Here’s a Few Steps to Follow 

  • Evaluate Technology Vendors – What vendors offer industry specific analytics solutions? Define a list of feature must haves versus nice to haves. Look at how any given system handles your RMS/CAD data, what feature sets it has (and what those allow you to do), how it secures your data, what type of support is provided by the company, how long a typical implementation and training takes, and of course cost. Note: while it isn’t totally necessary to make a technology purchase, the point is to develop new insights from analyzing your data over time in a rapid, on-demand manner. Manual analysis requires detailed manipulation that can take days or weeks to build reports – instead of minutes.
  • Introductory Meeting – Be prepared to introduce ILP to your agency in a series of meetings held with one to two departments at a time. You’ll want to define it, illustrate current agency pain points, describe goals with moving towards this methodology, and present a plan with a timeline for a full roll out.
  • Data Management - You’ve got to have a basic understanding of your data. Make sure your crime reports correlate to the appropriate crime types. They should also include date, time, location, and detailed notes. Some analytics solutions will help you clean your data so that you get valuable information out of your systems. But you still need to understand how that data has been entered into the system over the years. This may be a painful process, but will reap rewards that in the end allow you to make tactical decisions that help you lower crime.
  • Create Expectations - Moving towards an ILP model – while directed by the people in charge of intelligence – requires multiple stakeholders to pitch in. From analysts, to command staff, to officers, and dispatch, there should be clear training and expectations on how new systems will be used and processes followed.
  • Support Expectations With Training - In order to make sure all agency members are on the same page, prepare entry level training into how to conduct ILP and how to use new systems. Understand that some people will learn by listening and others need visuals. Don’t just talk about the new system. Be ready to open it, walk through it, and show the trainees basic functionality. Also, tailor your presentation to your audience. If your analysts will use the technology differently than your command staff (and they should), make sure you show each audience how they can use it to their specific benefit. Conducting online training? Record the session so people can follow up. To do all this you may need to bring in your technology provider to conduct the training. Reputable vendors will provide this as part of their package/service. Additionally, some will have options for consultancy. An consultant will be able to review your data, set up your systems, and take a deep dive with your intelligence person(s) in a way that goes beyond basic training.
  • Follow Up  – Prepare follow up emails with tips and best practices throughout the year following the launch of your ILP initiative. It’s important to continually positively reinforce what your staff can do with the system. Schedule group meetings from time-to-time to illustrate key points. And finally, report results on a monthly basis so that everyone in the agency can see how this methodology is making an impact in the community.

In my first year of moving to ILP and integrating an new analytics solution we were able to gain insights and make field-level decisions that ultimately led to a 20% reduction in FBI part 1 crimes. The downward trend continued in the two years that followed. If you’re interested in learning more about how to get started, send me a note at daniel.seals@publicengines.com, I’d be glad to have a chat with you. Stay tuned for my next entry in this Yardsticks for Intelligence Led Policing series.