Massachusetts Association of Crime Analysts > Blog > 2013 > August > 21 > “Big Data” and the “Changing Landscape of Criminal Activities”

“Big Data” and the “Changing Landscape of Criminal Activities”

I was sitting at my computer contemplating what I ought to write about for my first blog entry since returning to work… a long overdue item on my to-do list. Not particularly inspired by anything that my own mind could conjure up, (things tend to get a little fuzzy after 6 consecutive months of sleeping in one hour stretches) I did what any self-respecting professional of the 21st century does when they need an idea. I decided to steal one from the Internet.

Destination: Google. Search Term: Crime Analysis. Select: News. Scroll through the list of results. Voila! An article posted just 22 hours ago on titled Rise of the crime analyst. This could work.

It’s a short one page read (I’ll go so far as to label it the internet blurb equivalent of a highway billboard promoting IBM) and although it didn’t contain any particularly jaw-dropping or innovative concepts insofar as the world of crime analysis, it’s an article that contains a few oft forgotten morsels of geek fodder that can save you from becoming too ensnarled in the intricate web of work we weave as analysts, pull you back a bit, and remind you of the big picture- a much more peaceful place than the chaotic one we can find ourselves in when we wear too many hats and try to accomplish too many things.

The first sentence of the article begins, “By taking advantage of Big Data…”. I stopped here before reading any further. Those six words should serve as a reminder to us all of the “Big Data” that we have at our fingertips. We can gripe all day long about data integrity issues, but most of us rest our fingertips at a computer where we have access to voluminous, reasonably reliable information rich in detail about every call that is ever placed to our Department going back for years and years for everything from crime, to medical calls, traffic accidents, and a wide variety of other non-criminal issues. We are so fortunate to have this data, flawed as it may be, and we need to own the responsibility of breaking it down into meaningful easily digested information for our Departments. We also need to strive to be more innovative with it. Do you only focus on crime? Sure, we’re labeled “Crime Analysts”, but the truth is that we work with all police data which encompasses much more than just crime. In fact, the reality is that most police departments spend the majority of their time responding to non-criminal issues. So why not take a look at those and help your Department understand exactly how and where its resources are being utilized. You might be surprised.

The article also touches on the “crucial role [we play] in helping law enforcement agencies quantify, evaluate, and respond to the changing landscape of criminal activities in their jurisdictions”. I really like that term… changing landscapes. Have you ever thought about that? Jurisdictions are fluid… people move in. People move out. Social events change each year. Businesses open up. Businesses close down. New businesses move in. New roads are paved. Lights are installed. Policing styles change over the years. The economy changes. There are infinite factors that influence the “changing landscape of criminal activity” in our jurisdictions. Are you taking all of this into account when you look at historical data and compare it to the picture of crime in your community today?

Lastly, the article mentions how we’re in a position to not only analyze crime from a historical perspective, but that we “now [also] have the means to better forecast the impact it will likely have on the community”. This is something that we in the field are still grappling with. That policing paradigm that gets everyone worked up called, “Predictive Policing”. But alas I will save this topic for another blog entry. It deserves to be its own focal point.

In any case, get those brain neurons firing and thinking about your Big Data, what you can do with it, how to push it to its limits, and how you might describe the changing landscape of crime in your community if you were asked to.

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