THE USE OF PUBLIC SAFETY organizations' criminal event records is becoming a necessary tool in companies' risk-management programs. Much like market surveys, crime statistics can be used effectively in commercial site selection, insurance and premium setting, and other evaluations traditionally associated with capital investments unrelated to routine protection needs. There was a time, for example, when a shopping center developer only had to secure a promising location and commission a market survey and traffic count in deciding on the site for a new mall. Now, a developer probably should hire a security consultant to analyze whether a prospective site could be designated as either a high-crime area or a low-crime area.
A security consultant--whether in-house or outside--is called on to do one or more of the following: assess what types of threats or risks affect the assets to be protected, render an opinion on the probability of those threats or risks, and recommend a security or loss prevention plan to reduce the probability of those threats or risks. While not all security risks are crime oriented (such as natural disasters or fires), for the most part security risks entail crimes against people or property.
Today premises liability considerations are almost a requirement in business. Crime must be evaluated in preparing a security program that meets the threat of existing levels of risk and deters foreseeable adverse criminal incidents. The mere possession of crime statistics, however, is not sufficient. Without the capacity to establish patterns of crime properly and evaluate the impact of past and future crimes on a commercial premises and its invitees, statistics by themselves offer no insights and may even be misleading.
The professional law enforcement community generates a variety of crime data: offense categories, occurrence times, offender and victim characteristics, clustering, frequency, and clearance rates. Police calls are sorted by several activities, such as traffic, nuisance, domestic, crime, order maintenance, medical emergencies, and assorted administrative and judicial assignments. Bigger law enforcement agencies use computer programs and information management procedures to pull out various tracking formats to help in personnel deployment and routine administrative decision making.
Crime statistics are available from a number of sources, the chief repository being the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program managed by the FBI for the nation's law enforcement and criminal justice establishments. Crime in America is published each year and covers the various crime and police data for most cities and suburban communities. Urban police departments routinely offer aggregate crime statistics for Part I offenses (the most serious offenses) and Part II offenses (the least serious offenses).
While these figures are helpful in making comparisons between cities and states, little data is actually useful for determining whether a particular commercial site is more or less susceptible to crime. Proper analysis of crime statistics for security decisions involves at least some geographic mapping, comparative measures, and examination of percentages of change over time and of frequency distributions by per capita ratios. Unfortunately, this information is not found in the annual reports of police departments. The information has to be developed from dispatch records, which are then coded by completed offenses according to UCR subcategories and the disposition classification given by field officers responding to the initial call.
Law enforcement agencies normally release UCRs every fall and provide the previous year's data for the media to compare the annual changes. Some elective agency heads withhold crime statistics to reduce political consequences or allay the public's fear of crime. Others exclude some categories and deny any public access …