For crime analysts, fighting crime is all in the numbers

ENCINITAS — They are armed with analytical tools rather than pepper spray, tazers or guns. There are 10 of them in San Diego County and their ultimate goals for the community are crime prevention, reduction and disruption of crime.
They are crime analysts and they work in conjunction with law enforcement agencies in San Diego, including the San Diego Sheriff’s Department.
Renae Flores is the crime analyst at the Encinitas Sheriff’s substation. She is a civilian employee but has been a crime analyst for three years with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department; for the past nine months, she’s been stationed in Encinitas.
“As a crime analyst, I incorporate information-led policing to assist the Encinitas Sheriff’s Station,” Flores said. “My role includes locating crime series, patterns, trends and hot spots.
“I analyze crime to determine the possible offenders, type of crime, when the crime occurs, geographic location, and the motivation. I create maps and written analysis to share with sworn personnel, and they develop strategies as a result of the information,” Flores said.
The Crime Analysis Unit is overseen by Noah Fritz, who operates out of the Sheriff’s Main Office. The unit works with seven contract cities in San Diego, which includes Lemon Grove, Santee, Imperial Beach, Encinitas and the beach communities, San Marcos, Vista and Poway.
Fritz has been doing crime analysis for over 20 years, which is up there in terms of how long crime analysis has been around.
Law enforcement is well over 100 years old — crime analysis can be traced back to the 1970s, Fritz explained. He added that it’s still in its infancy, but has come a long way from the colored pushpins inserted into maps to using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and desktop mapping.
In the earliest stages in crime analysis, police in Cambridge, Mass. would use index cards with known offenders; around the outsides of the cards would be all of the information on the type of crime, description of the suspect and a wide variety of factors related to the modus operandi. Along the border of each card were holes punched out and they would place a dowel through the holes and then they would shake it, and where it’s punched out those cards would fall to the floor and then the process would continue to be shaken out until a suspect emerged.
“Think about manually doing, what today we do on the computer,” Fritz said.
The data comes from various sources, Fritz explained. “The first contact for police service is your computer-aided dispatch or 9-1-1 data, so when citizens call 9-1-1 we keep track and it goes into a database; all those calls and the nature of those calls,” he said.
“We also have active patrol officers who are driving around proactively looking and trying to, through police presence, deter crime; and when they see crime or see something suspicious they would take action immediately. So that’s more what we’d call an officer-generated call for service.”
The unit is able to access information on registered sex offenders, who is on probation and who is out on parole so that they can begin to look at and to know who’s getting out and moving back to a community, Fritz said. “We would monitor whether or not crime comes up, or did somebody get released.”
One of the challenges of intelligence-led policing is to take that volume of data and use the analysis process to come up with actionable decisions, he said. “We get a burglary pattern developing out in Santee, how do we reallocate deputies or schedules? It’s what I call having police officers at the right place at the right time. There may be a different nighttime pattern than there is a daytime pattern; there may be a different crime type during the weekends than there are during the week. You are constantly reassessing where those resources can best be used. And that’s a key piece of intelligence-led policing – informed, evidence-based decision making and actionable decision making.”
“What do we want to accomplish? We have only so many police officers, a certain size budget, so many cars, so many radios; where’s the best return for our investment? And the public expects us to spend their money wisely.”
Instead of receiving a call and hoping to get there in time, they are using a lot of the data information to do directed patrols where law agencies will target certain bars, events or concerts.
Flores said that some of the most prevalent crimes occurring in Encinitas are the crimes of opportunity, such as thefts from vehicles, where victims leave their vehicles unsecured, or leave property in sight. Property crimes along the coast are another issue that the Encinitas department deals with.
“Suspects target beachgoer’s vehicles during the daytime since there is a long window of opportunity to commit the crime. Suspects count on there being no witnesses or surveillance, making it an easy offense.
“Thefts from vehicles are a preventable crime with the community’s help,” she said. “It is important to always secure your vehicle, and take valuables with you. Even an empty backpack or bag is bait to a thief.”
Flores and the Sheriff’s Department have a very integrated and respected relationship.
“The San Diego Sheriff’s Department Crime Analysts join criminology theory with criminal justice practice to analyze crime and disorder in support of prevention, intervention and suppression strategies,” said Capt. Sherri Sarro of the Encinitas substation. “Crime Analysts assigned to our contract city stations focus on the tactical analysis of crime trends and patterns, as well as known offenders in their community. This information is provided to the Sheriff’s Station Commander so that I may set priorities and direction to the deputies within my Command.”
Sarro said that because of the technology and their ability to view crime trends and patterns and keep track of known offenders in the region has made dramatic changes in how law enforcement conducts business every day.
The Sheriff’s Department provides access to maps detailing crime in any of their contracted cities to the public. The maps may be found at crimemapping.com.
“Crimemapping.com is useful for the public to be aware of criminal activity in their community. It gives citizens the knowledge in order to be proactive in crime prevention,” Flores said.
“The public can assist the crime analysis unit by getting involved in their Neighborhood Watch Program, and being proactive in crime prevention. By being involved in the community, and being aware of crime within, it creates a stronger alliance against criminals. Also, if suspicious activity or a crime is witnessed, be a good observer. Gather as much information to report to law enforcement so the crime will be solved.”

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