Crime Analysis Reporting and Mapping for Small Agencies: A Low-Cost and Simplified Approach

Article excerpt

One evening, the Gardena, California, Police Department received a burglary-in-progress call. Officers arrived at the residence in less than 1 minute, discovered the perpetrator inside the house, and arrested him. Investigators subsequently linked the man to other burglaries in the area.

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The officers, however, were not in that part of the city by chance; they were on directed patrol duties. The sergeant supervising that shift had studied crime pattern information from crime analysis reports and maps routed to him a short time before the shift's briefing. Upon recognizing a cluster of burglaries in the late afternoon in that specific geographic area, he deployed officers who, in turn, responded immediately to the burglary call.

USEFUL TOOLS

Crime mapping has become an important and useful tool for law enforcement. Before the availability and use of computers with geographic information systems (GIS) software, agencies created handmade pin maps to help officers visualize where crimes occurred. Crime mapping allows law enforcement organizations to study crime trends and various factors relating to police resource deployment through the use of simplified crime data summary reports and maps. These provide powerful communication aids for law enforcement agencies and can significantly influence decision making. The use of maps allows decision makers to focus on crime reduction and prevention tactics in the right manner at the right place. (1) Advancements in GIS technology have allowed agencies to streamline the process and do more for less money. (2) The use of maps as a tool for crime prevention has become more important with the development of computer-based statistical analysis methods, such as Compstat (an acronym for computer statistics). Many law enforcement agencies in the United States and other countries are using the Compstat model, which has become popular during the past 10 years. (3)

Simply put, Compstat looks at a wide array of statistics, ranging from street crimes to officer productivity, and holds police managers responsible for following up on identified crime problems. The basic premise behind Compstat rests with management accountability, which police executives and managers thoroughly discuss at meetings. Managers set forth their strategies and actions based on the information made available to them. (4) Executives and managers receive a variety of computer-generated information, such as officer productivity data and statistics related to crime and quality-of-life conditions, compiled by crime analysts. (5)

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Many articles, books, and training guides exist related to Compstat outline programs based primarily in large cities and metropolitan areas. Large agencies, especially with crime-ridden neighborhoods, generally have more statistics to study and often can identify crime trends more easily. These departments usually have crime analysis units and budgets that allow for specialized computer equipment. But, what about smaller agencies? (6) Can they also benefit from a Compstat program? Although smaller departments make up the majority of law enforcement agencies in the United States, many do not use statistically based programs to track crime or evaluate field activities. A number of reasons may explain why, including small budgets, lack of technical personnel, or low crime rates. Some organizations may not require or desire a full Compstat process, but many can benefit from using comprehensive crime data reports and maps. No matter the size of the department, crime data reports and maps tell the story of what is occurring in the community.

The first step of the Compstat process involves obtaining accurate and timely intelligence and using a system developed primarily to analyze and map crime information. (7) Smaller agencies may need an effective and low-cost method to produce meaningful statistical reports, whether for a Compstat program or a simple informational distribution system. …