The Technology, Data, and Accountability Era in Policing | National Police Foundation

The Technology, Data, and Accountability Era in Policing

Rapid Advances (The 1990s and Beyond)

Geography and Crime

One key aspect of organizational readiness for community policing is the availability of data and information, as well as analytical tools, to promote informed problem solving. Obtaining, analyzing, and manipulating data helps police better understand crime patterns, crime trends, the geographic and temporal characteristics of a problem, as well as information about victims and offenders. The innovations demanded by community- and problem-oriented policing require departments to incorporate a geographic, spatial, or local focus and emphasize the importance of integrating crime-mapping techniques into departmental management, analysis, and enforcement practices.

As such, the Police Foundation established a crime mapping laboratory in the mid-1990s, which allowed for the integration of mapping technology into much of our work, to focus on the needs of the law enforcement community with regard to crime mapping and analysis.  We provided practical assistance and information to law enforcement agencies and worked to develop the theoretical infrastructure necessary for further innovations in police and criminological theory. This worked stemmed from research by Professor David Weisburd, one of the world’s top criminologists, who began working with the Police Foundation during the mid-1990s to examine the role of mapping in criminological research and to support agencies looking for resources for crime mapping.

One of the by-products of the mapping laboratory was the creation and re-initiation of the Crime Mapping News (today the Crime Mapping and Analysis News), a newsletter in which leading scholars, crime analysts, and police leaders can share successes in crime prevention and solutions using crime mapping, problem analysis, or other geographically informed tools.  In addition, the Police Foundation, with the support of the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the COPS Office, has hosted a series of workshops across the country and trained hundreds of law enforcement personnel from numerous agencies in crime analysis, problem analysis, and crime mapping, not to mention preparing others to provide such training.

Recent studies have shown a tremendous concentration of crime at very small geographic units of analysis, such as street segments (often termed “hot spots”).  Such hot spots also offer a stable target for police interventions, as contrasted with the constantly moving targets of criminal offenders.  Research on hot spots policing suggests significant crime prevention benefits can be gained by focusing on such places. In a controlled study of displacement and diffusion in Jersey City, New Jersey, Police Foundation researchers focused on immediate spatial displacement or diffusion of crime to areas near the targeted sites of an intervention and found crime does not simply move around the corner. Indeed, this study supports the position that the most likely outcome of such focused crime prevention efforts is a diffusion of crime control benefits to nearby areas.

Similarly, the foundation was among the first to learn that shortening police response time may have little effect on the chances of catching a burglar or robber. Its research in this area shifted the emphasis away from response time and toward managing calls for service.


Technology and Accountability

In the 1990s, the Police Foundation began its emphasis on technology to support community policing, crime reduction and prevention, and accountability. Its comprehensive research on police use of force led to the launch of its multi-year research and development effort focused on early warning systems and managing risk. Contributing to the national conversation on accountability, the Police Foundation developed an early warning and risk management system to help police agencies monitor officers whose behavior may place departments at risk, erode public confidence, or increase liability. It later included a similar tool for assessing racial profiling.

The Police Foundation often has been asked to review the operations of law enforcement agencies in an effort to improve deteriorating relationships between the police and the communities they serve. Working with municipal officials, the police agency, and the community, the Foundation generates recommendations designed to create positive change.

To address greater accountability among police, the Police Foundation worked to develop and validate customized assessment tools for evaluating ethical climate and culture. For example, we developed and administered comprehensive surveys to assess the ethical climate and culture in places like the Oregon State Police (Amendola, 1996); Inglewood, California; Omaha, Nebraska; and Washington, DC.

The Police Foundation also conducted a series of studies to evaluate Compstat, a program that systematically uses hard data and heightened accountability to reduce crime. Heralded as an emerging paradigm in police management and adopted by police departments across the United States, Compstat relies heavily on geographic information systems and local accountability of police commanders to improve public safety. In the first systematic analysis of Compstat’s diffusion and implementation across the nation, we learned that even the most advanced technology is pointless unless the police themselves understand its value and have the training to use it.

The Police Foundation served as the research partner for the COMPASS program in Redlands, California, an initiative that called for the collaboration among not only police and sheriff departments but also local governments, healthcare providers, institutions of higher learning, and the private sector. It focused on regional data sharing and problem solving. We evaluated developing technology through which regional data sharing could take place among partner agencies, among police and non-police partner agencies, and between partner agencies and the public.


Data Informed Strategies and Evidence-Based Policing

The Police Foundation has also conducted regional information-sharing symposiums on civil rights and public trust issues, developed informational tools on pattern and practice issues, and delivered onsite technical assistance on pattern and practice issues and consent decrees to agencies recommended by the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.

More recently we hosted a gang mapping conference for agencies within the Metropolitan Washington, DC, areas, including those from DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia.