One of the most disturbing realities in many police agencies is that quality analysis is often not integrated into decision-making practices. Sometimes, it is completely absent. This is bad for the community because it can lead to weak crime solving efforts and bad for police because it can leave the department open to criticism if traditional methods fail.
In many cases, analysis is only used to support strategies or programs that are already in place. When true analytical guidance is desired, analysts are often too far removed from decision-making process to have any impact. And even when their input is sought and accepted, analysts are often expected to return quickly to their other duties and are excluded from continuing problem-solving efforts.
Early involvement by analysts can be crucial to effective problem solving. Only then can they fully understand the problem at hand—and be able to provide the research and analysis that might allow others to avoid assumptions, often based on conventional wisdom or traditional practices, which are flawed and which can lead to failure.
Because acting as a decision-maker can be intimidating, supervisors must clearly identify the analyst’s role and be vocal about what the analyst has to offer. With the appropriate support, a capable analyst’s credibility and reputation will grow. In time, such an analyst will be relied upon to define problems, to help craft responses, and to methodically evaluate the effectiveness of the solutions that are implemented, thus helping to build a consistent and cohesive problem-oriented paradigm throughout the agency.
Policing is one of the few remaining professions that generally holds analysis in low regard. Many police agencies do not even recognize the need for professional analysts, much less celebrate the accomplishments of those skilled in problem solving. In too many departments, analysts play roles akin to those played by administrative or low-level technical assistants. Where they are elevated, it is largely due to tactical expertise, and even then analysts must be careful not to step on the toes of officers or senior police. In fact, detectives, the members of specialized units, and patrol leaders often feel compelled to keep analysts at arm’s lengths, unless they have direct supervisory control over their activities. It is absurd—but common—that these individuals fail to recognize that policing decisions are far more effective when influenced by an informed team of engaged analysts.
This is partly because police often underestimate the skills and expertise of crime analysts. On the one hand, analysts may be viewed as less technologically competent than information technology professionals and software engineers; on the other, their knowledge of policing is thought to be no better than that of lay citizens. These comparisons are inappropriate, because a good crime analyst has independent and specific knowledge of computers and policing that goes well beyond these other groups. Thus, analysts must be seen in their proper context: as professionals who have essential training, experience, and skills that help improve the effectiveness of efforts to reduce crime and disorder.
If innovative responses to crime prevention are to thrive, the agency must reward those analysts who embrace creativity and who develop new skills and expertise. In most police agencies, recognition and reward are tied to practices that result in a high volume of arrests. Although it is not necessary to sever the link between reward and arrests, the means by which these arrests are obtained should be considered. Arrests can be generated from an initiative that does little to address the underlying dynamics of the problem, or they can come from an effort to target the people, places, and conditions that create opportunities for crime. The latter is more likely to bring about a lasting drop in crime and is more likely to occur when creative analysts are teamed with patrol officers and supervisors who are well versed in problem-oriented policing. These efforts should be publicly recognized and rewarded if problem solving is to flourish within the crime analysis unit. By so doing, analysts will begin to understand and appreciate their essential role in supporting problem-solving efforts and begin to feel passionate about problem solving. Such recognition also plays an important part in retaining highly trained analysts – a major challenge for police agencies.
Consider the skill set required for problem-solving crime analysts. They must:
With this range of highly specialized skills should come commensurate compensation, but this is rarely the case. Instead, police agencies depend on internal promotions and transfers or the attractiveness of a stable government position with good benefits to attract qualified candidates. Analysts with comparable skill sets are paid far more in the private sector.
The lack of parity in salary with the private sector and the low rank and status typically afforded to analysts within police departments are largely to blame for the difficulty in attracting and maintaining a group of qualified analysts. High-quality analysts deserve salary and status befitting their skill sets and potential contribution. The other side of the coin is that expectations of your analysts should be relative to their pay and their status. With the proper leadership and training, highly paid analysts will quickly show their worth.
If you hope to advance problem-oriented policing, you should not base salaries on those paid by departments with a lesser commitment to analysis and problem solving. Remember that the value of analysts does not come down merely to the skills they possess or the tools they use or any other particular factor: ultimately, value is measured by the effectiveness of the solutions they propose and the efficiency of their professional outputs, given the tools and data that are available to them and the technological constraints under which they operate.
Developing a group of skilled problem-solving crime analysts is a requirement for police agencies committed to problem-oriented policing. Crime analysts can play a central role in helping problem solving projects to succeed. Indeed, they can often provide the driving force to ensure that the project team moves from one stage to the next in a logical progression. To play this role consistently requires them to be given training and support and to be integrated more fully into project teams and into the decision making of departments. This will require a considerable investment of time and effort from their superiors and supervisors as well as from the analysts themselves. Thus, agencies that wish to drive forward problem-oriented policing will need to consider carefully how best to build the needed analytic capacity. The nine questions outlined in this guide can serve as the starting point for this task. Once in place, problem-oriented analysts can make a dramatic and lasting impact on an agency’s ability to respond to crime and disorder.
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