by KCurtis

Military Intelligence Background Aids Crime Analyst – Pittsfield Police Depatment

March 10, 2014 in Blog by KCurtis

(The following was taken from the Berkshire Eagle entitled Pittsfield Police Crime Analst Helped by Military Intelligence Background by Jim Therrien)

PITTSFIELD — With training in military intelligence, Amanda O'Connor thought there was little chance she'd find civilian employment matching that skill in her native Berkshire County.

But that changed for the 25-year-old Sheffield resident when the position of crime analyst was established last year in the Pittsfield Police Department. O'Connor was selected from among more than 50 applicants for the job and began work at the Allen Street police station just before New Year's Day.

"It was a dream come true," she said. "I get to do what I want to do and stay in the Berkshires at the same time."

O'Connor is a 2006 graduate of Mount Everett Regional High School and a 2010 graduate of Williams College.

While the job of crime analyst is new to the city, it is rapidly catching on in police departments across Massachusetts and in other states. In requesting funding for the new position, Chief Michael Wynn said he immediately suggested an analyst when asked what one change would have the greatest positive impact on his department.

O'Connor said she uses data and statistical analysis and computer skills to assist officers in the field, and the information also helps Wynn and other leaders in managing the force and developing effective crime-countering strategies. She also is working to broaden the PPD's electronic connections with other law enforcement entities.

To gain some background on the job, O'Connor said that before starting she and Wynn met with members of Massachusetts Association of Crime Analysts, who work in other police departments, institutions such as colleges and state agencies. "They are very supportive of each other," she said.

"When I started, I had a whole bunch of ideas," O'Connor said. "Chief Wynn and I sat down to arrange the priorities. The first thing I did was organize the [daily police] logs."

She said she wanted to organize the logs — which list the calls officers respond to in chronological order, a condensed version of which is published in The Eagle — in part to help her learn how the department operates. Almost immediately, she said, officers noticed her categorized call lists and began referring to them.

Right away, the categories were useful to officers, Wynn said. "And from a management point of view, that's gold," he said.

Her lists break down calls over a given time period into such categories as Alarm, Burglar; Disturbance; Domestic; Harassment; Homeless Assist; Motor Vehicle Stop; Smoke Odor; Assist Citizen; B&E Motor Vehicle; Assault; Serve Arrest Warrant; Sex Offender Registry; Well Being Checks, and Unwanted Suspect.

"But our main priority has been the Hot Sheet," O'Connor said.

The "sheet" is a modern version of the old shift change roll call briefing, usually delivered in TV cop shows by a gruff, no-nonsense sergeant, as in the landmark series, "Hill Street Blues."

Today, O'Connor is overseeing a transition from the current Word document format, which officers can read or print out and take with them on the road, to a PowerPoint-style presentation with color photos, maps, and arrest, prison release and "wanted" information. It also includes information about crime trends and locations, state or national news relating to street drugs, weapons encountered by police or other information.

The Hot Sheets are shown on a TV screen in a slide-show format, but will soon be available to officers in a continuously running loop, O'Connor said, and the goal is to make it available on computer consoles in police cruisers.

She and Wynn spoke about her job during a recent city Police Advisory Committee meeting. The chief said O'Connor quickly had an impact by noticing burglary trends that led to an arrest. By looking at the entire stream of report data from officers, "she can find commonalties," he said, such as a link between three shooting incidents in different areas that hadn't been recognized.

"A lot of people [at the department] don't have the time to look through the data bases," O'Connor said.

A software program the department hopes to acquire will add a GPS mapping component, she said, allowing her to easily plug data on types of crimes, accidents or other call details into a city map. "This lets us see what is actually happening," she said. "It shows the trends, such as in the accident reports, where we need to improve responses."

Police work is something O'Connor said she had always considered for a career. After graduating from Williams, she enlisted in the Army National Guard and spent two years on active duty, including training in military intelligence, and also learning Korean.

She had noticed on a Williams website that Wynn also graduated from the college, and she asked him about police work, eventually learning that the crime analyst position would be created.

"It's a job that has a whole bunch of aspects," O'Connor said, "and it will not be boring."

She added: "It's engaging, and I am doing something to help the community and people in general, which is something I've always wanted to do."

To reach Jim Therrien: jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6247
On Twitter: @BE_therrien

Analyzing Non-Criminal Events

September 4, 2013 in Blog by Tiana Antul

As the title Crime Analyst implies, we analyze crime. But what about all the non-criminal events that get reported every day?  If we choose to simply ignore them then we’re leaving out a very significant piece of the entire law enforcement picture and neglecting to fill our professional role.

This is the significance of examining non-criminal events. So let’s get started thinking about how we might be able to make better use of this data.

A quick look at incidents reported in a one hour window yesterday revealed that our Communications center generated 17 incidents during that time. Only three of these incidents involved actual crimes including a sexual assault, a heroin overdose, and a motor vehicle violation.

All the other incidents involved non-criminal events including a verbal domestic dispute, a concerned citizen reporting an open residential door, a motorist in need assistance after his vehicle got stuck where the Sewer Dept. was working to replace a grate, an elderly assist for a woman who had fallen and needed help getting up, and a lot of police-initiated incidents for departmental work like investigations, serving warrants, and serving restraining orders.

Your department is likely to have a similar breakdown of incidents, maybe not so much insofar as the substance of the calls, but as far as the ratio of criminal to non-criminal events. I.e., the overwhelming majority of incidents are probably for non-criminal events.

Making good use of this information might require going above and beyond the traditional role of an analyst. You have the data (and power) to easily identify people in your community who might be at risk, who might benefit from some type of services, or who might show signs of potential to escalate from non-criminal behavior to criminal behavior. Making connections within your Department as well as with other professionals in your community will allow you to help citizens in a very real way, reduce the number of future calls concerning specific people or events surrounding specific circumstances, ultimately freeing up limited police resources. Perhaps you’ll even prevent a crime.

That domestic dispute…can you perform a dangerousness assessment on both parties? Is there anything in either party’s history suggesting risk factors or the potential to escalate? The elder who fell and needed assistance… can you refer her to Elder Services? They likely have a Fall Prevention Program aimed at educating seniors on how to minimize their fall risk. How about the stuck vehicle (which might have caused consequential traffic-related issues during a critical commute time)? The Police and Sewer Departments can work together to prevent such incidents while grates are actively being worked on. What about mental health in your community and its relationship with crime and disorder? Homelessness? How can you use non-criminal events to help alleviate the social factors associated with criminal and non-criminal events?

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

August 21, 2013 in Blog by Tiana Antul

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 PoliceOne.com 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.

by MACA15

C3 Policing in Springfield

May 6, 2013 in Blog by MACA15

During our January 2013 monthly meeting we had the pleasure of seeing a presentation on C3 Policing or Counter Criminal Continuum Policing. The Massachusetts State Police have been using an adaptation of military counterinsurgency strategies and tactics to turn around a very bad gang situation in North Springfield. To those who have been in law enforcement for many years these tactics and strategies look like a mixture of Community Policing and the practical application of Crime & Intelligence Analysis. No matter what you call this program the results show that the Troopers have been very effective and they should be commended for coming up with this excellent model that can be adapted to departments facing similar issues.

The program has been so succesful that "60 Minutes" ran a piece on it on Sunday May 5th. You can view it here: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50146229n

C3 Policing also has a website with a lot of great resources here: http://mspc3policing.com/

For those who missed the January presentation we have invited the State Police to give a presentation at our 16th Annual Conference from May 13 – 17, 2013. This program is so good that we will probably be asking Trooper Cutone and his team back for our 17th Annual Conference from May 12 – 17 in 2014.

by MACA15

Five Things Law Enforcement Executives Can Do to Make a Difference

March 24, 2013 in Blog by MACA15

The National Institute of Justice just released a report entitled, "Five Things Law Enforcement Executives Can Do to Make a Difference"

http://nij.gov/five-things/

This is really a quick and simple summary of things that are proven to improve police operations and service. At the top of the list is the fact that crime is rarely random and police patrols should not be either. Most people who work in police departments have known this for years but for some reason most police patrols in this country are still sent out in a very random fashion assigned to respond reactively to calls for service in specified geographical areas. As technology becomes more affordable and accessible and as education and expectations rise there should be more movement towards sending police patrol forces out with a mission to work smarter.

The first step to working smarter is to use crime analysis within all levels of an agency so that the overwhelming flow of data that comes into our police departments is turned into useful information. More importantly, that information needs to be made useful for officers, supervisors and investigators in the field and it needs to be given out in a way that it can be acted upon.

Police agencies needing assistance with implementing a crime analysis function can turn to organizations such as the Massachusetts Association of Crime Analyst. Our organization exists solely to help promote the use of crime analysis and the training of crime analysts. MACA membership is very affordable at only $40 per year. This fee also includes FREE membership in the International Association of Crime Analysts. http://www.iaca.net/

We hold an annual training conference which offers world class training for new and experienced analysts. This conference also offers networking opportunities to help law enforcement analysts and leaders learn from police officers, analysts and academics from around the country and around the world. Our monthly meetings offer excellent training opportunties and valuable networking at the regional level.

No matter what type of policing you do or what you want to call your policing strategy crime analysis is the key component to get started. Agencies with little or no spare resources to dedicate to this can receive assistance if they are willing to ask for it. As always, MACA is more than willing to help.

Glen Mills – President