Step 1: Rethink your job

Like most crime analysts, you probably think of your job in rather modest terms. You do not solve crimes single-handed. Nor do you take the lead in setting departmental crime-fighting priorities. Instead, you crunch data for those who do the "real" work of finding better ways to arrest criminals. You respond to requests for the latest statistics on burglary or car theft from beat officers and sergeants. You map crime for weekly meetings so that the lieutenant knows where to demand more effort. And you compile monthly statistics that others need for their reports. In other words, you sit in the back seat while others do the driving, asking for your help only when they need it.

This manual will help you rethink your role. Even someone sitting in the back seat can help the lost driver find direction. Control over information is crucial, and the ability to analyze it is all-important. The person who learns how to do so becomes an essential member of the team. But we are not talking here about power or status. We are referring instead to a challenge facing all police forces: how to solve enduring and repetitive crime problems. Think of yourself as a member of a team helping to solve these problems, with a particular role in that team. As you use this manual you will begin to see how to perform that role and you will also see how essential it is.

To play that essential role, you need to know more. We are not referring to improved computer skills or mapping ability, important though these are. You need to learn more about crime itself, to become a resource to your department as an expert on crime in your local area. If there is a new burglary wave, you should be the first to know and the first to tell. Analyze and map the statistics and get the basic facts yourself. If you wait, others will say what is happening without any factual basis. Once more you will be relegated to the back seat. You are the "facts" person and you must find things out as soon as possible, using the best means possible. This will often mean going beyond police data, and this manual will tell you how to use other data sources, including interviews with victims and offenders and records of crime kept by businesses. Becoming a source of information is a first step. The ideal is to also be a source of advice. Whether you can do this depends on your supervisor's openness, but at least you can provide options or support the suggestions of others with information and data.

In particular you should know what works in policing and what does not. How effective is random patrol? How often do police come upon a crime in progress? How often are crimes solved later through patient detective work or forensic evidence? How productive are stakeouts and surveillance in terms of arrests? How much do crackdowns cost in officers' time? What are the arrest rates for different kinds of crimes? How many crimes of different kinds are even reported to the police? Knowing answers to these questions will tell you why even the most hard-working officers are relatively ineffective in preventing crime, and why an increasing number of police forces are now turning to problem-oriented policing.

The main purpose of this manual is to tell you about problem-oriented policing and the vital part you can play in its implementation. The manual helps you distinguish problem-oriented policing from other forms of community policing. It shows you how problem-oriented policing can become more effective by using environmental criminology and situational crime prevention. It describes each of the four stages of a problem-oriented project scanning for crime problems, analyzing a specific problem in depth, responding to the problem by implementing solutions and assessing the results of the project - and gives examples of the data and information that you could provide at each stage. Finally, it illustrates the kind of analyses that you can undertake at all four stages to work effectively as a member of the problem-solving team.

These stages of a problem-oriented project will require that you remain working on a single project much longer than your traditional analytic role requires. You can expect to stay with a problem-solving project for weeks or months, rather than just the few hours needed to plot a burglary hot spot or provide a monthly report. Where a detailed assessment of results is needed, your involvement might even stretch for more than a year. You may have to explain this to officers who come to you for help. At first they may be surprised that you expect to stick so long with a project, but soon they will appreciate your commitment to making the effort worthwhile.

Your time has been wasted if you cannot communicate the results of your work. Later sections of the manual give suggestions for communicating more effectively by telling a story using simple maps and tables. Your presentations should try to lead to a course of action, but you must always explain the limits of your data and tell officers where your recommendations are based on best guesses rather than facts.

This manual cannot tell you everything you must know or do to become a problem-solving analyst. You must seek constantly to enhance your professional and technical skills and keep up-to-date with the latest developments in relevant fields. You must take the initiative in finding more effective ways to capture information and more efficient ways to process it, as time freed up from routine tasks means more time for the new work of problem analysis. You must read more widely and explore other sources of information. Additional readings are recommended throughout this manual, but you will also have to find material for yourself. A good way to do this is through networking with analysts in other departments and by attending professional meetings of analysts, police and criminologists. And try to pass on lessons you have learned by making presentations at these meetings of valuable or novel analyses you have undertaken.

In short, you should begin to see yourself as more than just a technician, skilled in manipulating and presenting data. You should become more like a researcher - albeit with a highly practical focus - one who is bringing the very best that science can offer to make policing more effective. By the same token, also recognize that you are part of an emerging profession, which you can help to develop.

Rethink your job:

  • Become a crime expert
  • Know what works in policing
  • Promote problem solving
  • Take your place on the project team
  • Learn about environmental criminology
  • Hone your research skills
  • Communicate effectively
  • Enhance your profession

Read More:

  • Braga, Anthony (2002). Problem-Oriented Policing and Crime Prevention, Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press.