Crime analysis has received a renewed focus largely in part to the tragic events of September 11, 2001. However, the definitions of analysis and the role of analysts have largely been ill-defined at best. Analytical functions in one agency do not represent the same functions in another. Local, state and federal analysts may share job titles but the course of their actual involvement in analysis is subjective to the specific agency.
Crime analysis, through the past two decades, has grown and matured into its own field in law enforcement. It has become a multi-disciplinary field. Crime analysts often start their careers as generalists that may, in time, specialize in one or more of the following areas, research, management, administrative, strategic, geographic, tactical, operational and exploratory. But just knowing the specialized areas can still lead an agency astray when hiring or announcing a crime analyst position.
With a broad scope of analysis techniques available, many agencies are prone to make mistakes when searching for personnel to fulfill the title of Crime analyst. There are many discussions between the utility of sworn or civilians members as full time analysts. Both personnel choices have their merits and drawbacks.
Sworn personnel, unlike their civilian counterparts, can easily be moved to other areas of the agency if they do not perform. Civilian movement within an agency occurs less frequently as most civilians are hired for their specialty. Civilians who are entering the field of crime analysis often seek out training and certification before or immediately after hiring. Sworn members may not have the time or resources offered to them for training. A mix of civilian and sworn crime analysis units are possible, but many agencies do not have the personnel resources available for such a unit.
Many additional factors need to be considered when forming a crime analysis unit. Agency size and service area size will have a large effect on how many analysts to hire. Agency call volume in the form of number of offenses, calls for service, traffic citations, and more can all be used to determine the number of analysts. The type of analytical expertise will also impact the number of analysts. The more types of crimes being analyzed, the more analysts will be needed. Of course, as the number of analysts approaches a certain level, a need arises for a supervisory analyst or lead analyst. Again, the numbers to determine the need for such a person will mainly be centered on the agency and its rules of supervision.
Not understanding the field of crime analysis is a mistake agencies make when searching for a crime analyst. For example, one agency recently released an employment announcement for a crime analyst who would be everything to everyone. They were asking for a specialist in all areas of analysis including skill sets that were not part of the crime analysis field. The problem with this approach is that few people can be everything to everyone.
The agency that asked for the "everything" analyst failed to understand that a crime analyst may understand each of the desired requirements but may not conduct all of the desired analyses with precision. A closer analogy to law enforcement would be with investigators. Homicide investigators receive different training than fraud investigators. Can they both perform investigations? Of course. Would the homicide investigator be capable of investigating a forgery or identity theft? Sure, but he may miss a piece of information that the trained fraud investigator now takes for granted.
The California Department of Justice certifies individuals as crime and intelligence analysts. Part of that certification process requires the individual to attend eight basic courses ranging from strategic and tactical analysis to intelligence and financial analysis as well as completing a 400-hour internship with a law enforcement agency. It is expected that upon completion of the courses and internship, the individual will have gained a basic working knowledge of the various fields of crime analysis and be able to perform, at a basic level, all of the analysis. The certification does not create a specialist, only a generalist. Specializations come after years of experience.
Knowing that there are various specialties with the field of crime analysis, an agency can make a better decision as to what type of analyst they wish to hire or analytical techniques they wish to employ.
The research analyst (RA) is a more traditional academic role whose function is to read the ongoing studies of academia, generate longitudinal studies, and generally serve as an agency reference librarian. An example of an RA's work would be informing the senior management of a new concept in police management called CompStat. The RA would assemble the required information into a report and brief the senior management team on the benefits and drawbacks of such a new program.
Every agency undertakes programs designed to better deliver services to the community, save budget dollars, or improve morale. The management analyst's (MA) role is to follow these programs, survey the end users, develop impact studies, and draw conclusions from the studies as to whether the programs worked. The MA will often draft reports to senior management as to how the program was received, its impact on the agency, and how to continue the results on a larger scale. Frequently, the MA will also create reports for public disclosure through city council meetings, publication, or electronic distribution.
An example of a MA's work would be studying how a new gasoline purchasing card impacted the department's overall budget. They would answer questions like did patrol officers spend more time in the field rather than back at the patrol station gas pumps or was there a cost/deployment savings?
Administrative analysts (AA) take a broader look at statistics and numbers within an agency. They are often responsible for Uniform Crime Reporting processing including generating monthly and yearly statistical reports. The AA will also focus on analyses like officer to population ratios, population at risk studies, and response time for calls for service.
Identifying crime trends within an agency is the responsibility of the strategic analyst (SA). SAs are in demand for agencies that have adopted a data driven management approach to policing, like CompStat. SAs will prepare reports and briefings indicating if crime is going up or down. They look at historical data for fluctuations, peaks, and valleys to determine program areas for executive concentration or development. Typical questions answered by the SA include "Given the past 10 years of homicide data, what can we expect to occur in the next year?"
The SA will use a multitude of external data sources in calculating and evaluating their positions. It is not uncommon for the SA to examine US Census data when evaluating future needs of a police department that is focusing on juvenile crime trends. The SA might report that a population explosion is expected in the next five years of 13 to 16 year olds requiring the agency to begin planning for an increase in juvenile crime.
With the popularity of electronic crime maps, a recent addition to the crime analysis field includes the geographic analyst (GA) or crime mapper. GAs may or may not come from a law enforcement discipline/background. It is quite common to see GAs come from other areas of government including zoning, licensure, and even health services. These individuals are specialists in the use of geographic information systems (GIS) for data analysis. The draw to law enforcement comes from the plethora of data available, the nature of the urgency for analysis, and the general altruistic feeling associated with making a community safer.
The GA will be heavily seen within the CompStat environment generating crime maps for senior management to quiz junior management. With the advent of Internet mapping applications, GAs may specialize even further into Internet map creation. GAs with an Internet specialty are limited to agencies who can afford the software and hardware which is still outside the reach of the majority of law enforcement agencies in the United States. GAs may also find themselves becoming the caretakers of mobile GIS applications including Geographic Positioning System receivers and more.
The tactical analyst (TA) associates people or suspects with events, people with people, and events with events. By applying complicated statistical techniques to a crime series, the TA is able to make educated guesses and predictions about when and where a suspect is likely to strike again. The TA focuses on discovering groups of crimes that may be attributable to the same offender. This requires voracious reading habits (regardless if the case reporting system is paper or electronic based) and a voluminous memory as the TA reads each and every crime report taken by the department in an effort to link similar incidents together on factual or stray data elements.
As an example, the TA will establish a group of crime incidents from a series of 500 reports. Similar attributes will be used to establish the linkages between the series. In this example, the offender burglarizes homes by entering through a skylight. From there, the TA will perform several analyses to make predictions that the burglar will again strike a target between two dates in the near future, during specific hours, and within a general vicinity. All these predictions are based on proven statistical processes.
The operational analyst (OA), for civilians at least, borders on being an investigator. Operational analysis is about knowing the suspect, following up on analytical leads, and calling other units within the agency (detectives, gangs, warrant squad, juvenile, family services) as well as outside agency units (Parole, Probation, Child Protective Services). An OA uses the Tactical Analyst's crime bulletin to aggressively pursue information on the suspect.
The OA is the future of crime analysis as agencies take on more and more responsibilities. Investigators have considerable caseloads requiring them to spend significant amounts of time in court or out in the field. An OA works in cooperation with the investigator to follow-up on internal leads with other units or agencies. The information gathered is forwarded to the investigator to determine if probable cause exists for a warrant or further action.
The OA dives into the case and examines all possible leads from an analytical standpoint. Was a security camera watching the scene? Is there a copy of the security camera tape in the file? Is a suspect noted on the tape? Arc there any identifiable marks on the suspect? If so, have they been cross-referenced in the criminal history system or gang files? What similar cases have the surrounding jurisdictions experienced? Have they arrested someone for a similar case?
An operational analyst acts like a detective once a pattern has been established. They do not work on individual cases; rather, they are similar to the Tactical Analyst in that they look for groupings of incidents based on similar attributes. Once a pattern is established, the OA kicks into high gear and tackles the case in cooperation with investigators.
The Exploratory Analyst (EA) uses advanced software and technologies to discover patterns and series in data that are not ordinarily visible. EA will use data mining software to identify a crime series from a grouping of 5,000 case reports without any involvement from the user. Humans are good at determining patterns from relatively small amounts of data. However, with a large agency experiencing 60,000 crime offenses a year, an analyst needs assistance.
For example, an EA will use a data mining technique called a Market Basket Analysis to extract business rules from a set of crime data. With the market basket analysis, the EA would discover such patterns as thefts from automobiles are precipitating burglary events by two weeks. This pattern may be true for 85% of the associated crimes.
EA is not widely used at this time by law enforcement as it is still complicated and extremely expensive. Data mining software often costs thousands of dollars more than mapping software and requires highly specialized training taking an analyst away from the day-today activities of being an analyst.
Often incorporated into the field of crime analysis is the realm of intelligence analysis. However, intelligence analysis is a completely different field sharing many similarities to crime analysis. It is easier for an intelligence analyst to transition to becoming a crime analyst and vice-versa than it is for a non-analyst to enter the field of analysis. Intelligence analysis brings with it a completely new set of skills that a crime analyst may or may not possess. The two fields are so close in nature that the California Department of Justice certification recognizes the analyst as a crime and intelligence analyst.
Intelligence analysis comprises relationship and association diagramming, financial analysis for crimes like money laundering, criminal enterprise analysis, telephone toll analysis, and terrorist early warning teams or units. It will often deal with non-criminal events in an effort to create a composite event that is criminal. Examining the relationship information between a group of people to determine who knows whom.
Further complicating the discipline is the positioning of a crime analysis unit. The position on the agency's organizational chart depends on the use of the unit as noted in the above distinctions. For example, an operational or tactical analyst will do better in patrol or detectives while a management analyst will fare better in a research and development unit. The statistical analyst works directly with the command staff of the department.
The administrative analyst can reside in many places as most functional areas in law enforcement have a need for administrative analysis. However, they are most comfortable in the research and development area or with the senior executive's office. The exploratory analyst, while there are few, has been found inside the information technology unit because this is the unit that employs the most advanced software in an agency. The IT unit also has access to the most databases within the agency providing a wealth of information to the EA.
Paramount to understanding the realm of crime analysis is the notion of an analyst wearing many different hats. It is rare that an analyst will strictly perform a single type of analysis. More likely, the analyst will perform two or three analyses in their job duties. One day, an analyst may be compiling statistics for a trend analysis and the next day they are working on operational analysis for a known burglar.
For smaller agencies, a crime analyst will usually be a generalist, having to know enough about each area to function. In larger agencies, the analyst may have the ability to specialize in one or two areas. This specialization usually does not break the contiguity of the crime analysis paradigm.
By better understanding the crime analysis paradigm, an agency can make better decisions regarding personnel acquisitions or the use of analytical techniques. Better acquisitions will create a Crime Analysis Unit that better serves the agency as a whole and ultimately, the community. Management of an agency's expectations leads to the success or failure of the unit and of the analyst.
Suzy Burns is a crime analyst with the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department, and past-president of the California Crime and Intelligence Analysts Association and the Southern California Crime anil Intelligence Analysts Association. She holds a double Bachelors in Criminal Justice and Marketing. Chris Cebhardt is a Senior Police Officer with the Park City, UT Police Department, and formerly a lieutenant with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC. He is currently the president of Crime Analysis Associates, Inc. He may be reached at email@example.com.…