World in Hands Data Driven Policing Concept

Policing in the United States and around the world is rapidly changing.  Just as there have been paradigm shifts in law enforcement procedures in the past, we are now on the brink of another transformation of how communities are policed.  Current national narratives and recent events are motivating these changes, and like it or not, a new era of law enforcement is upon us.  One of the main solutions that helps law enforcement adapt to this change is adopting a sound data driven policing strategy.

Data driven policing is the use of data to inform decision making and increase actionable intelligence for all personnel within an agency.  When establishing a data driven policing strategy, it’s important to remain focused. For this reason, you should think about it in terms of five core goals:  Increase efficiency, increase effectiveness, direct resources to what matters most, increase community connections, and uncover deep, actionable internal insights for your police department.  Leveraging data within a law enforcement agency can be very successful and can be adopted by any department.  Let’s explore how.

1. Increase Efficiency

Data driven policing offers the ability to take advantage of the vast amounts of internal data retained by a police department and provide insights regarding how an agency can get the most bang for their buck. Any patrol officer can explain the vast amount of documentation that is completed for many police activities. Most if not all of those records are recorded in a computer aided dispatch system, as well as a records management system. As a result, there is more data than one can imagine within those systems. Harnessing that data and putting it to work with data driven strategies enables departments to provide relevant guidance that makes police agencies more efficient.

data driven policing hot spots maps regular and mobile

Increased efficiency comes from both preventing crime through better targeting of the right problems and communicating the information needed to identify them with greater ease. Predictive hot spot policing is able to utilize a significant portion of police incident and or call for service data and provide very accurate maps of where crime is most likely to occur. These sophisticated maps can show an officer exactly where to go and by focusing on identified hot spots, the officer can get the most out of his or her presence. A proper data driven strategy would be to also ensure that the maps are easily understood and produced so that all officers have access to this valuable information.

2. Increase Effectiveness

Efficiency needs to be coupled with effectiveness. A police department could be extremely efficient, but have no impact on the problems in the community. Data driven policing will allow an agency to utilize actionable intelligence (gained via numerous data sources) and deploy to the right places at the right times to have the greatest impact on crime and other community issues. The goal is to use data to inform decision making. With smarter decisions being made on how to tackle a problem, issues will be mitigated sooner and overall quality of life will improve in the community.

data driven policing hot spots mapAll departments collect large volumes of data, such as call for service address data, incident level data, and accident level data. Some modern departments have GPS in all cruisers or attached to all police officer radios. The data from these devices is just sitting in databases, but if leveraged properly it provides deep revelations about how a slight tweak in an officer’s activity could yield significant results. For example, predictive hot spot maps enable a patrol officer to focus on the right areas at the right time to either prevent crime or catch a criminal in the act. This level of effectiveness results in crime reductions that would otherwise not be gained. Many police departments already use some of their data; however, a proper data driven policing strategy will allow for detailed insights to be gained instantly without the loss of valuable hours to crunching numbers.

3. Identify Real Problems

Perhaps the most important aspect of data driven policing is unlocking the ability to design an effective strategy for pointing law enforcement leaders to the most significant problems in a community.  Oftentimes, issues that are perceived as “major problems” are the result of uninformed opinions.  Data can provide insights that refute or confirm those perceptions and help uncover what the real problems are.  Through using the right data, police agencies are able to quickly identify the most important problems and then implement data driven policing initiatives to mitigate those issues.

Manchester Heroin GraphsIn fact, it is possible that advanced uses of data driven policing could have spotted the rising opioid/heroin crisis before it became the major issue that is now plaguing communities across the nation.  The proper monitoring of certain data points, such as calls for service, crime types, and open source data sets could have highlighted the rising heroin problems.  A skilled law enforcement leader with a well-developed data driven policing strategy could have used such insights to get in front of the epidemic and contain this full-fledged crisis.

4. Connect with the Community

Imagine having the ability to gain instant insight into community sentiment about the police department, problems in a neighborhood, or perceptions of certain events.  Data driven policing can provide this kind of rich information to law enforcement.  Previously, community surveys have been used to gauge this kind of sentiment; however, in the era of big data, there are so many more resources that can be harnessed and used to gain deeper understanding of the populations different departments serve.  A police chief can learn about developing problems or negative sentiment and then provide direction to subordinates about how to best intervene.

“I’ve had people from neighborhoods where their cars have all been broken into, they’ve just been riddled with car breaks, come out and thank me at 2 o’clock in the morning because they see the cruiser driving around and they’re saying it’s an absolute deterrent.”

– Tyler Gagne, Officer, Manchester, NH Police Dept

For instance, certain neighborhoods may have previously undetectable problems, such as disorderly pedestrians during the late night hours.  Normal policing routines might cause this kind of issue to fall through the cracks because information isn’t passed along and it is not considered a serious problem like robbery or burglary.  The problem is that if a police department does not address this kind of quality of life issue, then community members will feel like they are not cared about and trust in the police will diminish. Data driven policing techniques can uncover this exact kind of problem, allowing for officers to respond to the issues, solve the problem, and increase the quality of life for the residents of the neighborhood.  When this is accomplished, citizens remain confident in their police department and trust is maintained.

5. Gain Internal Insights

Responding more efficiently and effectively to community problems is important, but just as important is the ability to identify and understand the internal workings of a police department.  Using select key performance indicators, a supervisor or police executive can examine insights about department morale and agency strengths and weaknesses to get a better handle on administrative functions.  Proper visualization and communication of this kind of data to end users allows for a quick recognition of internal issues.  A Chief should be well aware of any morale issues or budgetary issues before they become major detriments to the department.  Data driven policing can offer solutions that keep the Chief and other stakeholders several steps ahead of these matters.  The goal here is to keep executives prepared at all times so that appropriate decisions can be made in a timely manner.

Conclusion: Data Driven Policing Now

The imminent changes to the criminal justice system make the use of data driven policing imperative.  Insights gained from the right kind of data that are then leveraged appropriately will help law enforcement approach problems in the most effective and efficient ways possible.  Just as the private sector has adopted the use of analytics as a core component of the business process, policing needs to implement similar strategies to be effective and maintain legitimacy in the communities it serves.
If you’d like to quickly get a data driven policing initiative in place for your community, Ironside can help. Our IronShield solution provides a flexible predictive policing framework with a predictive hot spots module that’s ready right out of the box. We look forward to helping you protect your community and reduce crime.