Crime Analysis - Technology and Communications -

Crime Analysis

Best Practices from 6 agencies



Deborah Osborne | From the September 2008 Issue Monday, September 1, 2008

The invention of the personal computer and crime-mapping software launched crime analysis as a profession. Current homeland security challenges are leading to more sophisticated technology solutions and attention to improved analysis, but basic technologies remain the core tools of professional crime analysts.

In this article, analysts and experts in the field discuss some of the technology and best practices in use in crime analysis today.

The Lincoln (Neb.) Police Department
By Chief Tom Casady
As soon as the volume of police incidents exceeds the capacity of an individual to read every police report, recall every detail and intuit every relationship, technology becomes vital to analysis. In other words, about the time you hit case number three, you need help.

Analysis technology can be as simple as a card file or as complex as a relational database with all the trimmings. Several specific types of software prove valuable for analysis: Databases, spreadsheets, linking and charting, and geographic information system software come immediately to mind.

To effectively utilize these technologies, analysts must have capable computers and connectivity to the computer systems where the source data resides. It’s vital for the department to have a quality records management system (RMS) and communications backbone.

Simple technologies can be incredibly useful. Basic things such as sorting records by date can prove quite powerful in large data sets. More sophisticated capabilities, such as geocoding records for spatial trend analysis, predictive analysis based on mathematical probability, and link analysis is increasingly occurring in departments around the country.

What’s Lincoln Using?
At the Lincoln Police Department (LPD), the RMS is the fundamental technological building block of our crime analysis unit (CAU). The capability to query the data for patterns, trends and relationships is at the heart of analysis.

Access to the databases of other enterprises is also a crucial tool for our unit. Such things as the State Sex Offender Registry, the Department of Correctional Services’ data about past and present inmates, and even public-source data such as the County Assessor’s online property information all prove very valuable.

Our analysts use a variety of tools,  such as graphics software, GIS software, spreadsheets, desktop publishing, etc., and the very best analysis is only valuable when it’s communicated to people who can act upon it. Reporting software (such as Crystal Reports), presentation software (such as PowerPoint), desktop publishing software (such as PageMaker) and business graphics software (such as Visio) are useful tools for preparing both electronic and paper communications.

Products and processes that make crime analyst’s documents and information available via the Internet are particularly important at the LPD. The Web browser is our preferred method of disseminating information. We use Web conferencing services (not video conferencing) to distribute briefings to employees at diverse locations across Lincoln.

The hardware side of technology is also important. Analysts must have competent personal computers and fast connections, and regularly upgraded and maintained servers and host systems. Your communications backbone must also be fast and stable.

We make great use of large plasma and LCD monitors (primarily 50 inchers) for displaying analytical products such as maps, informational PowerPoints and images related to trends and patterns. Four networked business-class color laser printers strategically located throughout our facilities allow our analysts to readily produce sufficient quantities of printed materials that would be impractical with desktop printers. For many analytical products, color adds an important component that helps people distill the information.

An Example
The following example is a short story about information technology contributing to police work in our town. It’s not a big case and not particularly flashy, but when I think about it, it seems to be a remarkable example of how the flow of information in investigations has changed.

I had tickets to a Nebraska vs. Oklahoma State football game on a Saturday. Before heading out to the game, I checked my e-mail. Among the dozen or so was one from myself, the result of an automated threshold alert. The alert is one of over 40 automatic queries that run every morning in the wee hours using data from our records management system and our geographic crime-analysis software, CrimeView.

This particular query is one I wrote last summer after our city council adopted a residency restriction on certain high-risk sex offenders. The ordinance prohibits Level 3 high-risk offenders whose victim was under the age of 19 from residing within 500 feet of a school. At the time it was being debated, some people wondered how in the world we could enforce it.

Here’s how: The query looks into the 1.5 million names in the department’s master name index, finds the registered sex offenders and determines which are classified as Level 3 high-risk offenders. Next, CrimeView creates 500' buffers around each of Lincoln’s schools and determines which of these offenders’ addresses fall within these buffers.

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Deborah OsborneDeborah Osborne was a crime analyst in the Buffalo Police Department from 1997-2007, and has taught online college courses in crime and intelligence analysis. See her blog at Analysts' Corner .


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