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Feb. 18, 2014 12:30 pm

‘Smart policing’ movement training Philly cops to be data scientists

Crime is down all across the board in Philadelphia: in 2013, so-called Part 1 crimes, which includes violent crime and property crimes, were down 5.8 percent from 2012, according to crime data. And the city's top police officials say that's in part because of the Police Department's new crime analysts.

The mural outside of the 22nd Police District, which has two police officers trained as crime analysts.

The 14th Police District had been getting slammed with home burglaries for years.

Officer Eric Person, a cop with the northwest district for more than a dozen years, knew that. That’s why, after he completed his training and became the district’s resident crime analyst, he made it his job to figure out how to reduce the number of burglaries in his district, which covers parts of Germantown and Chestnut Hill.

He mapped the crimes over time and realized that 24 percent of burglaries were happening in one quadrant of the district. He then took to the streets to survey the homes that had been hit and noticed that many of them had details that made them targets: rear driveways, windows that were easy to break into.

Then came the solutions: he suggested to his captain that cops should alert residents when their neighbors have been hit and tell them they might be next, they should offer “home surveys” that tell residents if their houses are easier targets and the district should have a team focused on burglaries.

In 2013, residential burglaries in the 14th District were down 39 percent from 2012, Person said.

Officer Eric Person was the 14th District’s crime analyst, though he has since been detailed to a different unit.

In fact, crime is down all across the board in Philadelphia: in 2013, so-called Part 1 crimes, which includes violent crime and property crimes, were down 5.8 percent from 2012, according to crime data.

Crime trends are notoriously fickle and there has been a recent decline nationwide in property crime, but the city’s top police officials say the local trend is in part because of the Police Department’s new crime analysts.

Officer Person, 36, is one of 27 police officers who have been trained as data scientists as part of the city’s Smart Policing program. Started in April 2012, the federally-funded program puts officers through a rigorous, two-week crime science program at Temple University. The officers learn how to use Excel and the Police Department’s new crime mapping system, as well as how to create surveys to collect information from residents.

Data is the future of the Philadelphia Police Department, said Deputy Commissioner Nola Joyce.

Smart policing,” or data-driven policing, is on the rise nationally, Joyce said. It was one of the core principles of Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey‘s crime strategy, drawn up by Joyce and her colleagues in 2008 when Ramsey became commissioner. Training police officers as crime analysts is just one part of the program.

It’s a shift from the policing of old, where police had data but didn’t know how to use it strategically.

“Police departments have been very good at counting and reporting [crime],” Joyce said. “What we are now getting better at is understanding.”

So far, the approach has seen results.

“We do believe that a big part of the crime reduction in 2013 is due to the smart policing program,” Joyce said.

But before the department could see results, it had to convince police captains that crime analysts were valuable.

In order to do this, Deputy Commissioner Kevin Bethel, who oversees the districts, had the first cohort of analysts present their findings during the Police Department’s monthly crime briefings, Joyce said.

Joyce said the thinking was: “These four analysts were going to be so successful, their captains were going to be talking about them so much that I’m going have captains knocking on my door saying, ‘How can I get one of these?’ And sure enough, that’s what happened.”

Every district now has “the luxury” of having its own crime analysts, as Bethel puts it. That’s important because the districts are “uniquely independent,” said Tony D’Abruzzo, who runs the crime analyst program.

“Each district operates like a small city,” he said, with its own culture and way of doing things.

It’s one thing that makes Philadelphia’s crime analyst program unique: it trains sworn police officers, who are already familiar with department culture, as analysts, rather than importing a civilian crime analyst into the districts.

phila police analyst training

Tony D’Abruzzo (standing) teaches a class of officers training to be crime analysts.

There’s two other things that make this program unique from those in other cities, said Temple University professor Jerry Ratcliffe, who teaches the analyst training program:

  • The partnership with Temple University
  • The emphasis on crime science, not just analysis. “We wanted them to understand that analysis is useless if it’s not reducing crime,” Ratcliffe said.

The message, it seems, got through. Person, the 14th District’s former crime analyst (he’s since been detailed elsewhere), stressed the importance of actually putting data analysis to use.

“I can make a map [of crimes] but if I’m not applying theories, if I’m not telling you how to reduce crime, it’s only part of a solution,” he said.

The same goes for Officer Kristen Pazdan, one of two crime analysts in North Philadelphia’s 22nd District, who had completed a report for her captain on auto thefts this past fall.

"We do believe that a big part of the crime reduction in 2013 is due to the smart policing program."
Nola Joyce

The report read like a science experiment, with hypotheses on why auto thefts were so high and results after testing each hypothesis. But there was also another aspect, one that’s not often seen in science experiments: a list of solutions for her captain to implement.

In the three month time-frame, during which the 22nd District implemented Pazdan and her partner’s recommendations, auto theft went down from 28 occurrences in 2012 to 10 in 2013, Pazdan said.

The 22nd District embraces the analysts now, even one decidedly “old school” lieutenant, Pazdan said, adding that people are constantly coming to them to do analyses on certain crimes.

“We’re starting to be in high demand,” she said.

kristen pazdan

Officers Kristen Pazdan and Shannon Enz are the 22nd District’s crime analysts.

There are a few concerns with the program.

One is sustainability. Several of the analysts have gotten promoted or detailed, like the 14 District’s Person, so the Police Department is figuring out how to deal with this turnover, with solutions like in-house training and monthly analyst meetups to make sure the analysts are constantly learning and sharing those lessons.

Another is education for commanders. The department wants to teach commanders the best way to make use of their analysts.

Of course, there’s always budget setbacks. The department received $700,000 in federal grants for the program to pay for laptops and people, like Ratcliffe and D’Abruzzo, to teach the officers, but those grants are coming to an end.

There are simple things, too: D’Abruzzo wishes he could get colored printers in every district, so when cops print out crime maps, the maps are easier to read. (Perhaps tablets or other mobile, color ways of displaying maps could also be a solution.)

The data-driven policing movement is also meant to be a move toward greater transparency. It acts as a check on police officers and the department as a whole, those involved with the program have said.

In monthly crime briefings, Bethel asks captains to show him evidence of why they’re adopting certain strategies.

“They have to demonstrate to me that there’s data that supports why they’re dong what they’re doing,” he said.

He’s also spoken of how the department’s crime maps help him hold captains accountable, using the data to make sure districts are focusing on high-crime areas.

But it’s also a tool for the public, Ratcliffe said.

The open data movement means that “it’s inevitable that the public sector is going to have to be more data-driven,” Ratcliffe said, because the public — journalism organizations, advocacy organizations and others — are able to access this data, ask the right questions and hold city agencies accountable for their actions.

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Juliana Reyes

Juliana Reyes began as lead reporter at Technical.ly Philly in July 2012. Previously, she was a city services beat reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News, as part of a project called “It’s Our Money.” She is learning to drive, learning to bike (in the city) but is an expert at taking SEPTA. She grew up in North Jersey and Manila, Philippines but she left the tropics for Bryn Mawr College, where she majored in linguistics. She now lives in West Philly.

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Comments

  1. Guest / February 19, 2014

    There are also civilian Crime Analysts who work within the Real Time Crime Center, which is inside the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center. Unfortunately, these Crime Analysts seem to have been forgotten in the Smart Policing dynamic. They are men and women who have exceptional skills but continue to be stifled by Command Staff.

  2. Guest / February 20, 2014

    The Memphis Police Department’s RTCC / CAU have piloted this exact model since opening in
    April 2008. In fact Philly PD made a visit to our center and it is great to hear of their success. The partnership of commissioned analysts working with professional civilian crime analysts works well for Memphis. While office analysts do infuse that police culture and street knowledge of policing into the mix, I must admit that the highly talented skill sets of experienced civilian crime analysts are an invaluable asset that drives the success here in Memphis. Any agency leaning toward this model must figure out a healthy way to merge the two and capitalize off of each entity’s strengths. We have done that here.

    On another note, I would encourage agencies to partner up with your local universities. MPD
    partnered up with the University of Memphis Center for Community Criminology & Research (CCCR) and it has been one of the best decisions we could have made. Again, it is great to see that Philly PD has teamed up with Temple University and are experiencing success. Keep up the great work.

  3. feltonfelton / March 20, 2014

    Finally got around to reading this, so my first question, why did it take so long for Philly to engage in Crime Analysis? 2nd, why not hire civilian analysts who WANT to be analysts and not cops, instead of trying to make cops analysts? Sometimes this will work, but as the article mentions, you have promotions, transfers, etc. One thing that I see in my job, I have worked hard to gain respect as a civilian analyst, but there is still that disrespect more often than there should be. I find that if I provide the officer the analysis but let them come up with their own strategy to reduce the problem, things were best. You can still hear “that makes sense”, but you still get the “your not a cop, you don’t really know” mindset, even though I have been at our PD longer than 85% of our curren patrol guys.

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