It’s the life of a crime analyst. The tedious and never-ending daily process of reviewing incidents and cleaning data (akin to dirty laundry, despite fervent strides to whittle it down there’s inevitably a new abundance of it greeting you each day, silently mocking you). The reports we run regularly to support CompStat style meetings, crime watch group meetings, grants, and the like. The technical support we often lend within our departments because, for some unknown reason, people assume that when you do crime analysis you’ll also know how to fix their infected laptop, the jammed copy machine, and the broken printer in the cell room. And it just wouldn’t be a normal day for any crime analyst without at least one unexpected (and almost always urgent) request for data from one of the various units within your police department, an outside agency, or the public. These requests take time, sometimes requiring several hours to build a query and pair your results with a nice chart or analytical summary. The requester is unlikely to understand the data and therefore has no realistic idea as to the amount of time and work involved in meeting their request. And then there are all the emails, phone calls, and meetings…
If you feel like you’re constantly chasing your tail then chances are you’re prioritizing things in such a way that you’re getting in the way of your own analysis work. It’s a common pitfall for crime analysts and can put a serious cramp in how good you feel about your career. So let’s take a moment to take stock of our priorities and highlight four things that should top that list.
1. Data Quality and Analytical Integrity. The GIGO adage is a permanent fixture in the world of crime analysis, and for a good reason. Nothing you prepare, no matter how nice it looks, it worth anything unless there’s good quality data behind it. In fact it’s downright irresponsible to provide your department with information that was gleaned from an analysis of uncleaned data. So take the task of data cleaning seriously and make it your daily religion.
2. Skill building. This should also be one of your top priorities. Dedicate some time each week to becoming more proficient in some area of your work. Whichever area of your work you tend to avoid (maybe it’s Microsoft Access, or ArcGIS) is probably a good place to start. Challenge yourself with something as simple as learning how to create a new type of chart in Excel or something slightly more involved like learning a new mapping technique. Not only will you love the sense of achievement, but it’s less stressful to learn these things on your own time than under the pressure of when something needs to get done. Proficiency will also shorten the amount of time it takes you to complete your work and improve the overall quality of your work. There’s no way around it; to become proficient you must have exposure and you need to practice.
3. Automation. How many times have you thought to yourself, “I know I should really automate this, but I just can’t find the time to do it.”? If you can’t seem to find the time, chances are something less important, like responding to emails or special requests, is getting in the way. Start by automating just one regular task. When you realize the amount of time and aggravation it saves you, you’ll want to keep going! It’s also a great way to put an end to that “chasing your tail” feeling.
4. Make Nice. You’re not going to like everyone in your department. We’re only human. But a pleasant attitude and a smile can go a long way to make your job and your life a lot easier. Officers are more likely to appreciate you and your work. They’re more likely to approach you for analytical support. They might be more willing to share information with you. They’re more likely to be understanding of the challenges you face in your work. They’ll probably be more willing (even happy?) to give you assistance when you need something from them. It’s all around a good thing.
So take a moment to evaluate how you spend your average work day. If you’re constantly putting out fires and struggling to find time for analysis, slow down and shift your focus to things that will help your long-term goals, not the short term goals of others. You’ll feel more in control, have fewer crises to deal with, be better equipped to deal with real crises when they do arise, have more time for analysis, and minimize your stress.by