2015 POP Conference
Oct 19-21, 2015 Portland, OR

Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

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Enhancing the Problem-Solving Capacity of Crime Analysis Units

Tool Guide 9 (2008)

by Matthew B. White


The theoretical framework of problem-oriented policing has evolved steadily over the past few decades and it has become increasingly clear how much the approach depends for its success on the careful analysis of data about crime problems. Indeed, problem–oriented policing and data analysis are highly interdependent. A framework for problem-oriented policing is of little use if good data are not available and, similarly, complex data about crime problems require a meaningful framework for analysis. In fact, methods of capturing and analyzing data about crime problems have rapidly developed at the same time as advances have been made in the theory of problem-oriented policing agenda.1 Computerized crime data and geographic information systems (GIS) are just two examples.2 Attracted by these developments, a cadre of young, well-trained analysts has been recruited into policing. Many of them have good technical skills and may even hold degrees in non-policing fields such as Geography that provide training in advanced mapping and GIS. They are eager to put their knowledge to work in order to "make a difference", which is why many have opted to join police departments, rather than work in some other public or private setting where they could earn much more money.

Police managers who wish to benefit from these developments and implement a program of problem-oriented policing must ensure that their crime analysts are properly inducted into the police environment and that their analytical work is fully integrated into departmental operations. They will then be able to take their proper role as central members of the team in problem solving projects. This Guide is intended to help police managers attain this goal.

Merely expanding analytical capacity cannot on its own further a commitment to problem-oriented policing within a department. Efforts to enhance the unit must be supported throughout the chain of command. High-level oversight and support is essential to the reallocation of traditional crime analysis duties and to ensuring that the work of the crime analysis unit maximizes the role of problem-oriented policing throughout the agency.

Crime Analysts and Crime Analysis Units

Crime analysts are known by many titles: police analysts, management analysts, intelligence analysts, research analysts, and planning analysts. Whatever they are called, however, their responsibilities—collecting, collating, distilling, interpreting, and presenting data and information—are similar. They are typically tasked with a long list of duties, such as diagnosing emerging crime trends, creating administrative reports, and identifying likely suspects. With developments in user-friendly technologies, some of these traditional functions might be performed by line officers or administrative assistants, but many will not; thus the core functions of the analysis unit must be preserved at the same time as its ability is enhanced to serve problem-oriented policing.

Despite the uniformity of duties, great diversity exists in and among analysts and analysis units. The advice contained in this Guide would be of less value for very small departments with only one or two analysts on staff. It is primarily intended for larger departments with a separate crime analysis unit employing several analysts, some of whom might be recent recruits of the kind mentioned above.