Regional Crime Analysis: Not Just a Phase

Often, when new ideas, concepts or approaches are introduced into local law enforcement, there is a general sentiment that, “It’s just a phase” or “This, too shall pass”. Though there may be an initial peak of interest by an interested few, the luster often wanes over time.   For some – or even many – of those new ideas, that proves to be true; the shiny object burns bright for a few months or even a few years, but eventually it dims or goes out completely. But there are some changes that are made in law enforcement that are far more than a shiny object – and those are the ones that are critical to the core safety of citizens served. The move from local to regional crime analysis is one of those changes.

Back in the 1990s, when I entered law enforcement, I was surprised to find that the only data sources available for my analysis were those our agency created and maintained internally. Of course this predates the Internet and predates substantial technological advances at the consumer level. But in just the first few months of my career, I knew that not having data (or information, as it might be) from other agencies was a tremendous handicap in performing any kind of useful analysis.

Not unlike many other new analysts, I quickly found a number of “end-arounds” to obtain the information I needed from other agencies. I set up an informal, yet professiona,l network of analysts and detectives in our county who could serve as points of contact when data or information was needed from their agency. While ensuring we followed all of the proper dissemination procedures, we found that on-going contact (regular meetings) and proactively contacting each other when a new crime series or criminal became active were extremely effective in putting together a complete picture as it related to that series or that offender. For example, as I identified an emerging crime series, I would contact others in the network to advise them of the activity. This provided an opportunity for them to share any possibly related incidents they had identified with me, as well as alerted them to be on the lookout for similar reports occurring in the future.

Though “crime bulletins” had long made their debut by then, by the time the paper documents had been created and sent to surrounding agencies, the delay had created far too much time for most tactical analysts to be effective. Email made things a bit more efficient, as analysts could create the bulletins in a word processing program and attach the file to an email sent to other official/approved email addresses. Of course with the email being sent to single individual, if that employee was out of the office, on vacation, had left the agency or was otherwise unavailable, that email would go unchecked and the represented agency would neither have the shared information, nor know to contribute their own incidents / information to the inquiring analyst. These delays created issues for anything immediate. Response was slowed or non-existent.

By the late 1990s, “regional data sharing” was more than a buzz phrase; it was a hot topic of interest at all levels of law enforcement. And to emphasize, it wasn’t “information sharing” that was being discussed, but actual raw data sharing. That meant the data plugged into the various fields was to be shared from not just jurisdictions bordering each other, but included those overlapping one another and agencies at all levels – from federal, to state, to county, to local to specialized (such as university and hospital police departments). One of the best known early efforts was The Regional Crime Analysis GIS (RCAGIS) system, a MapObjects-based system that was developed by the United States Department of Justice Criminal Division Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Staff, in conjunction with the Baltimore County Police Department and the Regional Crime Analysis System (RCAS) group. This application facilitated the analysis of crime on a regional basis, around the City of Baltimore. The RCAGIS system was designed specifically to assist in the analysis of crime incident data across jurisdictional boundaries. Although funding has long ended for this project (nearly two decades ago), the effort is considered the first such effort that was fully executed and for which documentation still exists.

Similar efforts across the country were also being built, some with great success and others which failed for various reasons. Some of the reasons the efforts failed were because of no funding, political concerns, data-security sharing concerns and lack of data-sharing technology availability. These efforts were often led by individual agencies (many of which were being spear-headed by a proactive crime analyst), but there were also efforts initiated by law enforcement groups which had been previously organized for other purposes. Regardless of how they were formed or the challenges they faced, the goal of data sharing across jurisdiction was common to them all.

The early 2000s provided law enforcement with technological improvements that made raw data exchanges between agencies easier. Records Management Systems (RMS) and Computer Aided Dispatch Systems (CAD) vendors received critical feedback from law enforcement customers who had previously struggled to extract their own data from the systems for the purpose of analysis. Vendors responded to that call from customers and updated systems that allowed for data extracts into a common, sharable format (such as .dbf, .mdb, and .cvs). Getting the data into common formats was a major hurdle accomplished widely during this decade.

There were many reasons why the early data-sharing movement in law enforcement derailed.  As time marched on, funding issues, technological issues and even political issues became less of an issue. But one issue blocking progress remained: concerns about data-security when sharing data across networks. Often, several agencies in a regional area would meet with the intention of creating a data sharing capability, but ultimately one or more agencies struggled (or even failed) to get approval to share outside their network. Initiatives would then falter or stop completely due to security concerns.

Undeniably, law enforcement data security is critical. Law enforcement officials must ensure the data is secure, including when it is at rest and while in transit from server to server. And certainly while risk is associated with the very generation of that data, the transmission of that data to another location brings even greater risk. Many argue that when considering the risk/reward scenario in terms of law enforcement data sharing, there has to be very specific policies and procedures for transmitting the data through approved methods. These methods include the appropriate Memorandums of Understanding between agenices. The Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) division of the FBI provides very specific direction, testing and assistance in the area of data sharing.

The broadest and most substantive data-sharing system is Accurint® Crime Analysis which hosts hundreds of law enforcement agencies across the United States in one secure cloud. All agencies participating contribute data and have access to the data provided by the other contributors. All of the data is standardized and made available on a map, in a grid, through hundreds of analytics and downloadable in various formats.   Agencies can contribute their own GIS “agency layers” adding in points, lines and polygons with significance to their jurisdiction. For example, in Colorado the marijuana retail locations have been added as a layer, allowing agencies to perform tactical, strategic, administrative and even predictive analytics on a single location, a group of locations or all locations. Agencies can also query across multiple jurisdictions to search for connected crimes, such as all bank robberies within the past 180 days where a note was passed and a handgun was displayed. Users can enter an individual’s name (such as a suspect, a witness or a repeat victim) and find other jurisdictions also having contact with the person. The data contributed to the system includes RMS, CAD, License Plate Reader (LPR), Offender, Crash and Ballistics data. Each agency decides what data sets they want to contribute and how often they want to update their data.

Accurint Crime Analysis has received praise from agencies across the country and is now the fastest growing data-sharing platform. Users regularly report success in identifying series and patterns, pinpointing and predicting offender behavior and in solving cases sooner. It is clear that regional data sharing with Accurint Crime Analysis is here to stay and is how data will be exchanged at all levels of law enforcement – from local to county, state to federal. The Accurint Crime Analysis security requirements are higher than industry standards and it quickly delivers results in various formats for the user.

Twenty five years after the first mention of ‘regional data sharing by law enforcement, Accurint Crime Analysis has become the most successful of the regional information sharing efforts. This success is due to not only the quality of the data shared, but the analytics within the system. Analysts and investigators praise the ease of use, the quality of the information and usefulness of the analytics. It has truly revolutionized the way law enforcement finds, analyzes and predicts regional crime series, trends and patterns.

LexisNexis is committed to investing in innovation to support the law enforcement community. Learn about how Accurint® Virtual Crime Center links public records to law enforcement data with analytics for the entire agency.

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