Using data to predict trends helps law enforcement do its job
Intelligence-led policing — the practice of gathering data and using it to guide operations and resource deployment — is acclaimed around the world as a way of drastically reducing crime. Data alone cannot prevent crimes, but data paired with efficient, fast resources to analyze information and draw actionable conclusions has greater potential to stop crimes before they start. With intelligence-led policing, agencies can examine data and make specific decisions based on that data to try and prevent further crimes.
Consider the following example: It is 4:00 p.m., and officers are about to leave on patrol; there are several officers on different beats and in different sectors. Without direction, the officers might wander across the different sectors, and during the course of their tour of duty they may all accidentally end up in the same sector instead of spreading out to cover a larger area. When an analyst reviews the last seven days of crime from all of the sectors, she sees that there were two robberies in sector A, a burglary in sector B, and three shots fired calls for service in sector C. The commander can then assign special attention and fixed assignments to those specific areas. Based on the location and times of the gunshots, officers can be assigned to that specific location within the timeframe in which the shots were fired. They could also pay specific attention to possible offenders based on any descriptions they may have received.
Why isn't everyone using intelligence-led policing to help prevent crime? Law enforcement agencies are strapped for resources and often must focus on responding directly to events, rather than sifting through data to prevent future crimes. In the past, the technology has been lacking, making it a laborious exercise for agencies with tight budgets. There was not the time nor the man power to conduct data analysis. Now, what formerly took hours can be done instantly, and the technology has advanced to make it easy for everyone in an agency to analyze data, rather than a single employee tasked with crime analysis. Officers can take ownership of his or her own sector, beat or post by conducting their own analysis.
A collaborative effort is vital if any agency is going to successfully practice predictive policing. Police departments need to collaborate with other units and agencies within their cities or counties, such as the parole and probation agencies, which are completely different in scope and responsibilities thanagencies.
For example, a police officer may ask the parole and probation department for the residences of all of the recent parole releases. The list might show that there are seven parolees who have been released in the last week living in different areas within the city, three of which had previously been incarcerated for robbery. A police officer can coordinate with the parole officer responsible for the parolees and offer to assist with random visits. Not only does that notify the parolee that an officer knows of his or her residence and is on watch, it also allows the police officer to see that person and look at the residence. Because parolees are required to tell their parole officers where they live, public records can confirm that the address is correct. A public records database also can provide the addresses and contact information for the parolee's relatives and associates. Alerting procedures can notify police officers if a parolee moves, even if he or she does not report the change of address to the parole officer.
The practice of intelligence-led policing is not widespread because the technology that drives it can be cost-prohibitive for some agencies. However, it is a scalable method that can be adapted for use by law enforcement agencies at any level, from basic techniques to robust capabilities. By taking a close look at budgets, identifying exact needs, and working to change the overall culture, intelligence-led policing can become a staple of every agency.
Lt. Tom Joyce is a former commander for New York's 79th Precinct Detective Squad and Cold Case Homicide Squad, and he is a law enforcement consultant for New York-based LexisNexis Advanced Government Solutions.