A law enforcement crime analysis unit is essential in helping solve, predict and prevent crimes and with helping apprehend offenders. Chief William Bratton of the Los Angeles Police Department stated, “The heart and soul of any department’s success in its principal obligation of crime control is first rate crime analysis,a field of endeavor that has been growing in leaps and bounds” [Source: IACA, the International Association of Crime Analysts].
While crime analysts and criminal intelligence analysts share similar roles, there are some notable differences. One possible distinction, outlined by Crime Analyst Christopher Bruce (in Integrated Intelligence and Crime Analysis by Jerry H. Radcliffe, Ph.D.) is that crime analysts focus on statistical analyses and crime trends whereas criminal intelligence analysts focus more on the criminals themselves.
Crime analysts need to have various skills including, communication (oral, written and visual), creative and critical thinking and technical/computer skills. Ultimately their role is to provide their findings, in a way that can be easily understood, to assist all members of a law enforcement team carry out their crime reduction, prevention and control duties.
What is a Crime Analyst?
A crime analyst provides law enforcement personnel with relevant information, in the form of reports, presentations or maps, so that they can efficiently deploy resources to prevent or control crime. Crime analysis involves looking at existing reports and data, analyzing statistics to identify patterns and trends and to prepare useful products (i.e. reports or maps) in a timely manner so that criminal activity can be predicted, monitored or suppressed. Often, law enforcement staff will ask crime analysts to focus on a certain crime area; in other words officers, detectives and chiefs may bring crime analysts a problem that they need solved.
Although one day may be different from the next, here are some essential duties as part of a crime analyst’s job description:
- Review existing crime-related data/statistics or reports related to a particular law enforcement district or jurisdiction.
- Use computer programs, such as databases, statistical analysis software and GIS (geographic information systems). The latter is to prepare maps, especially useful for law enforcement officers.
- Analyze statistics to determine trends and to forecast future criminal activity.
- Write and edit relevant reports, bulletins and presentations.
- Provide analytical support to police officers/sheriff’s deputies, detectives and other personnel.
- Develop programs to predict and prevent future criminal activity.
Crime Analyst Career Options
Crime analysis is an emerging field among law enforcement agencies across the United States. According to the IACA, there are numerous crime analyst jobs:
- Tactical Analysts: Tactical crime analysts focus their efforts on recent crimes (such as determining trends of when, where and why criminal activities are occurring) so that police officers and investigators can be deployed in a short period of time to control or terminate a crime spree.
- Strategic Analysts: Strategic crime analysts integrate criminal and law enforcement data with socio-demographic and geographic data. The purpose is to understand why, where and when criminal activity is taking place in relation to the community at large in order to prevent and control crime. Strategic analysis is linked with intelligence-led policing.
- Administrative Analysts: Administrative crime analysts educate law enforcement personnel (i.e. from patrol officers all the way up to the Chief) and municipal staff on their criminal findings including data, trends and forecasts. A key focus involves research, writing reports and delivering presentations.
- Intelligence Analysts: Intelligence analysts, also called criminal intelligence analysts, rely on multiple sources (including data, surveillance, interviews and records) to collect vital information on organized crime. They transform the information they find into intel they provide to all relevant law enforcement personnel.
- Crime Analysis Supervisors: Crime Analysis Supervisors oversee the Crime Analysis Unit and delegate the various assignments/duties to their crime analysts. This means they must keep on top of all relevant crime reports, statistics and data series. Supervisors must keep up to date with the latest methodologies related to crime analysis and keep in close communication with the various law enforcement departments and relevant stakeholders in the community.
Both sworn officers and civilians choose to pursue a career in crime analysis. Law enforcement agencies, from large police departments to small sheriff’s departments, typically have a crime analysis unit. Most law enforcement agencies require crime analysts to have a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as criminal justice, public administration, computer science, mathematics/statistics or criminology. Continuous education will also help you stand out from a pool of applicants in this competitive field. For example, The IACA (International Association of Crime Analysts) offers professional development courses, such as Crime Mapping or Tactical Crime Analysis. Through the IALEIA (International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts), you can complete their nationally recognized FIAT program which includes topics such as crime pattern analysis and creative/critical thinking.
According to Sergeant Greg Stewart of the Portland Police Bureau Crime Analysis Unit, continuous and higher education are key. For example, he points out that criminal analysts not only have to detect patterns, but also recognize when patterns do not exist and he credits higher education to equipping analysts with this particular skill.
From July 2011 to January 2012, the Santa Cruz Police Department began a trial employing a crime analysis system developed by Criminologist George Tita, Anthropologist Jeff Brantingham and Mathematicians George Mohler and Martin Short. The sophisticated predictive policing computer modeling system provides predictions, based on historical data, regarding what time of day, where and what kind of crime will occur. According to Santa Cruz’s Crime Analyst Zach Friend, burglaries declined by 4% and a total of 13 arrests, during a six month period, were made because of the innovative system.