Here’s the Thing

“Here’s the thing”….“No, not quite.” Or, “Chief, lot’s happened since we last spoke,” are some pretty hard ways to start off a conversation. Disappointing someone’s expectations or not supporting a preconceived notion are things we too often frown upon in policing. But in the world of crime analysis we need to accept that nothing is sacred when data starts bringing truths to light.Take your average city and find the most experienced members of the team, from patrol officers to administrative folks in city hall. They may all be able to give you a laundry list of things they “know” are wrong and what should be done to fix them. Sometimes they agree. And better yet, sometimes they’re right. The historical and experiential knowledge in your organization is critical to your success. It shouldn’t be a barrier to continuously improving your processes and how you make use of that knowledge.Sometimes Risk Terrain Modeling (RTM) analysis will disrupt expectations, like showing that areas aren’t as risky as they are perceived to be — pointing out that your teams are putting in a lot of effort in one place while others may need it more. RTM may also identify elements of your environment as risky which you may never have considered in the past. That doesn’t mean someone was wrong, that the decision they made wasn’t heartfelt, or that the work they did wasn’t valued. It merely shows how powerful data can be in helping you move your community forward as patterns change over time, or in response to successful past programming.On the other hand, sometimes RTM points out the same places you’re already working on. But without RTM, you may never have known what keeps attracting these issues to those spots over-and-over again. Without RTM you may not see other places on the horizon that are vulnerable to the same concerns.So, here’s the thing — every community faces problems, and it’s easy to let our past experiences and biases drive how we respond to them. Let your data take those first steps. Just like you how might have said “film is cheap” after switching from analog to digital cameras, well, so are analytics. Run the analysis. Let it show you the patterns rather than ask it to validate the ones you already assume exist. Then, get to work. Let your tools help you understand if what you’re doing is working and then keep at it, or “fail fast” and move on until you find what works for your community.And don’t stop using those years of experience. Harness them to add context to the RTM analytics. Figure out what it is about how people interact at the places in your city that is disturbing the peace you’re trying to protect. Then engage those key members of your team to disrupt the pattern.

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