The value of crime analysts: Part 1 of a Q&A with BJA visiting fellow Craig Uchida

By , April 1, 2014

140326 UchidaDr. Craig D. Uchida is the president of Justice & Security Strategies, Inc., where he oversees contracts and grants with cities, counties, criminal justice agencies, foundations, and foreign nations. He is also a member of the Law Enforcement Forecasting Group (LEFG), a program of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). Last year, LEFG asked CBKB to develop the paper Putting a Value on Crime Analysts: Considerations for Law Enforcement Executives. We spoke with Dr. Uchida recently about crime analysis, cost-benefit analysis, and the new publication.

What’s your background and how did you get involved in crime analysis?

I have a PhD in criminal justice and criminology from the State University of New York Albany, and have worked with law enforcement for over 30 years. A lot of my work has been research and evaluations with police departments. I also administered different law enforcement programs at the National Institute of Justice, where I was the director of research. I worked primarily on community policing programs and problem-oriented policing (POP) programs, stressing the interaction of research and crime analysis.

I was at the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) at its start. One of the backbones of community policing is problem solving, and that whole arena stresses the need to analyze and have data, and to have people who can do that kind of work. One of the things we looked at was how to redeploy police officers and hire civilians to do crime analysis. The notion of using geographic information systems (GIS) and different software packages to analyze data was another thing we pressed forward. COPS funded about $300 million of computer technologies for law enforcement agencies.

At BJA I’m a visiting fellow, and one of my areas is to look at police innovations, in particular, predictive policing and the Smart Policing Initiative, both of which involve analytics and work with crime analysts. Getting police to think more proactively and use data for decision making has become extremely important.

Tell us about the origins of the new paper, Putting a Value on Crime Analysts. What was LEFG’s role in this? What were the questions or problems you were hearing?

LEFG is a group of about 20 to 25 people within the law enforcement arena. It was conceived almost three years ago by BJA, and they brought together police chiefs, sheriffs, researchers, and administrators. The purpose of this group is to look at big-picture issues within law enforcement: what the future holds, what trends they think will happen, and what can and should we start doing about those trends.

About a year ago, we started to talk about crime analysis and its importance. Some of the smaller departments started to ask, “What is the value of crime analysis and how do we defend the requests we want to make for these civilian positions?” In the medium and large departments, they were facing budget cuts. Their questions were about “How do we keep crime analysts, justify them, make sure people understand what they do—and how do we work with the city budget people who don’t understand crime analysis and its value?” The chiefs and administrators were saying, “Why don’t we have something on cost-benefit analysis (CBA)? We know what the costs and the benefits are. Will that help us justify the positions and ask for more analysts?” In the budget scenarios that a lot of cities are facing now, they’re trying to justify people and technology. Law enforcement is very concerned about having the right type of analysts, keeping civilians, and not having these positions cut.

All of this coincides with a huge effort by BJA to enhance the whole field of crime analysis. Right now the director of BJA, Denise O’Donnell, and the deputy director, Kristen Mahoney, are pursuing very strongly this idea of having analytics and analysis more and more within policing. And they’re pushing programs for training and technical assistance, improving curricula for crime analysts.

That’s how the request for this paper evolved. Because the director and deputy director of BJA are working on this whole process, it was a very timely discussion that we had last year. This document will be useful to LEFG’s members as well as BJA staff and grantees working on crime analysis-related issues. It will also show the LEFG that this is how BJA reacts to the kinds of issues they raise. I think that’s important in the relationship between BJA, the forecasting group, and broadly with the law enforcement community.

It’s a lot of fun, actually, to see this blossom more, and this document in particular will be one of the first that goes out—with respect to crime analysis—and it fits clearly within that mandate to push this forward.

How do you hope the information in this paper will get used? And what, if anything, do you want to draw people’s attention to?

I think the paper’s main points are very pertinent both to CBA and crime analysis overall. You raise three questions about the value of crime analysts. First: What is the purpose? Why do you have crime analysts and what do you use them for? In some cases analysts aren’t used for analytic purposes, and that drives me crazy. Second: The paper focuses people on the costs associated with crime analysis. We don’t think about the costs. It’s important for police to home in on that and on the added value that crime analysts provide for them. And third, are there feasible alternatives to having a crime analyst on staff? That starts to open doors: Do we use contractors; do we use researchers—and still get what we need but not necessarily have a staffer?

If people focus on those three areas, it will get them thinking about what crime analysts do, what it costs, and what other ways there are to do the work. This type of analysis is extremely important now. That’s where we’re headed in law enforcement: using data and using analytics to drive decision making. I see this paper in particular as helping to drive those questions. Once people read this and think about it, they will ask, “Who do we have? What kinds of data do we have and why do we need this?” I would love to see people use this paper to guide them in that thinking.

In Los Angeles, where I do a lot of work, five years ago they had 137 civilian crime-analyst positions. Over the last few years the city has cut or eliminated about 100 of those positions; those analysts have been replaced by clerks and police officers. Now the Los Angeles Police Department has 70 percent fewer trained civilian crime analysts to work on CompStat and look at patterns of crime in its patrol divisions and across the city (I’m personally involved in that area). The leaders in the city —the mayor, city council, and budget people—don’t realize what the analysts are doing and don’t appreciate their value, so this is a good document to provide to the LAPD when they talk with city leaders: Here’s something to buttress the arguments for crime analysts.

Read Part 2 of this interview. Feel free to comment
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