Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Nine Questions (cont’d)

Are Your Analysts Learning as a Team?

Although the analytical duties related to any particular problem-oriented policing project can usually be performed by a single analyst, their close association with other like-minded individuals is vital. Relying on others to provide access to information, explanations, and interpretations is critical. Analysts should not be isolated for extended periods of time—either from their peers within the agency or from the network of problem-solving crime analysts across the country. Staying connected to other problem-solving analysts and professionals inside and outside their own agency will allow analysts to keep up with new developments in technology, to become aware of best practices, to increase efficiency, and to learn new skills. Their connection to other problem solvers can strengthen their commitment to problem analysis.

Analysts are often physically relocated to be closer to the team members whose work they are to support. This has obvious advantages, but it can fragment the network of analysts, who are likely to thrive among their peers. Worse, prolonged relocation can dull the specialized skills and knowledge that makes analysts unique. It is important to recognize that analytical decentralization can carry long-term disadvantages that might outweigh short-term benefits. Even when centralized, however, analysts should not be tied to their desks. Managers must balance in-house duties with out-of-office time that will allow analysts to build networks that can aid in problem solving. This can include remote meetings, joint data collection efforts, research trips, and a host of other activities that can enhance their ability to impact people and problems.

Whether analysts are housed together or are deployed throughout the department, it is important to strike a balance between short-term tactical goals and long-term developmental objectives. Coordinating problem-solving efforts and nurturing progressive analysts well suited to their mission requires that analysts work and learn as a team. Of course, certain analysts will acquire specialized skills and interests over time. Although the full breadth of analytical knowledge and skill should be acquired by all team members—cross-training and role switching is very important to any analyst’s growth—some specialization can also be efficient. However, as with any assignment, teamwork should be aggressively promoted.

Recommendations

  1. Ensure as much centralization as possible, even if it is only based on ongoing cross-training and information sharing.
  2. Ensure that analysts who are centralized are also mobile; they should regularly spend time with those they support while at the same time having access to a full array of tools, data, and peer support.
  3. Recognize that providing diverse tactical and technological support can endanger collective analytical progress. To counteract this, set a baseline for acceptable overall skills and knowledge and hold all team members to it, regardless of their specific roles.
  4. Consider personality and new skill sets when hiring with an eye to building a diverse analytical unit that can operate as a team while at the same time assisting each other in their professional growth.

Do Your Analysts Have Adequate Technical Support?

The support of information technology specialists is needed throughout all sectors of a police agency, but is nowhere more critical than within the crime analysis unit. Crime analysts are not programmers, database architects, or network engineers; rather, they rely heavily on the expertise of these individuals to create and maintain much of the data, infrastructure, hardware, software, and other tools needed to support their job functions. Given this support, analysts will make more of the data, better tool choices, experience fewer software problems, create less problematic databases, and develop more efficient analytical plans.

In fact, better technology will improve analytical efficiency especially when dealing with non-traditional data. Many problem-solving efforts take far too long and are far short of the quality that could have been achieved because of a lack of appropriate data and technology. Although advanced technology is not necessary for limited or pilot analysis projects, it is critical to the implementation of efficient institutional problem analysis.

Some analysis units owe their successes to technical support that is integrated into the unit. In-house technological support is sometimes born of necessity, because police information technologists are often focused on the needs of officers and commanders, rather than on those of analysts. Moreover, analysts often require tools and techniques that are far ahead of what agency programmers can provide. In fact, it is often analysis that drives technological innovation. Giving analysts technical priority might be resisted, but it can actually improve responsiveness and efficiency department-wide by providing patrol officers with products and methods that are precisely tailored to effective crime and disorder reduction. Although problem solving is about much more than just technology and data, downplaying their importance will hamper projects sooner rather than later. If managed properly, growing analytical sophistication can improve information technology throughout the agency—and by doing so prevent drag on institutional problem analysis.

Recommendations

  1. Help build a strong and positive working relationship between analysts and information technology staff, but do not force analysts to rely on information technologists who cannot commit to their needs.
  2. Because many technology units are barely able to support current departmental-wide needs, a rapidly evolving technical crime analysis staff can quickly overwhelm technology units with requests. If no other solution can be found, consider allowing the analysis unit to hire its own experts and programmers, which will allow it secure and direct access to the data it needs. While this might be resisted by the technology department, it is a model that has proven successful in many cities.

Are Your Analysts Free to Be Objective?

In many agencies, analysts do not feel free to provide information that contradicts desired outcomes. This can occur for a number of reasons. Some analysts might feel too intimidated to risk offering strategic suggestions that are at odds with established opinions. In other instances, analysts might not have the credibility or clout to make their opinions heard. Well-intentioned analysts who want to improve their working relationships with decision-makers might sacrifice their objectivity to achieve acceptance and inclusion; even well-regarded analysts can struggle with objectivity because of their desire to stay integrated in decision-making circles.

However, challenging traditional assumptions is critical to quality problem-solving; no resource is more valuable to this end than an objective and well-prepared analyst. The analyst’s role is to offer methodologically-sound analysis that leads to a multi-faceted understanding of a problem, to ensure that responses flow directly from these analyses, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the response strategies. In so doing, objective analysts increase efficiency by ensuring that resources are properly and effectively allocated. In addition, objective and well-trained analysts allow police executives to defend controversial decisions more easily and allow for greater accountability. This benefit is often overlooked by police managers.

Objectivity should be encouraged and defended and analysts should be allowed to challenge accepted beliefs and conventional wisdom. Analysts who have done their homework provide information that can bruise egos in poorly managed efforts. But their alternate interpretations of situations and data can be critical to enhancing problem-oriented approaches. Rather than infringing on the expertise of decision-makers, such analysts fulfill a core function.

Recommendations

  1. Encourage well-prepared analysts to respectfully disagree—even with high level commanders and even in front of subordinates.
  2. Lead by example: where appropriate, allow analytical recommendations and opinions to carry weight and allow analysis to help drive decision-making.
  3. In short, trust your analysts; and when they fail, focus on fixing the circumstances that lead to analytical shortcomings, rather than on placing blame.