CRIME PREVENTION Boardman cops seek trends in reports
The analysis helps with deterrence and prediction.
By DENISE DICK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
BOARDMAN -- People are creatures of habit, even the bad guys.
"I came from a department with crime analysis, and I'm a big believer in it," said Police Chief Jeffrey Patterson who came from Clearwater, Fla.
Detective Mike Mullins and Chrissie Ross, crime analyst, read every police report filed with the department. They're looking for trends, patterns and series to help predict where and what type of crime may occur in the township so department resources may be deployed accordingly.
"An example of a trend is kids breaking into cars," Patterson said. "A pattern is that kids are breaking into cars and taking only a certain item, like CDs. A series is a certain person committing a crime."
By analyzing the reports with an eye for those trends, patterns and series, Ross and Mullins can predict where and when a certain crime is likely to occur.
"It can be extremely accurate," Mullins said.
He relayed a situation where Ross advised officers that a business was likely to be broken into on a certain night at a particular time. Officers went to that business and as soon as they left the scene, its alarm sounded.
"She was right on as far as the night and the hour," Mullins said.
In 2002, shortly after Ross started in the analyst position, there was a rash of car thefts. By compiling and analyzing the data, Ross predicted where the thief would strike next, and officers set up surveillance accordingly.
Officers were able to watch the crime, seeing how the criminal executed his trade and then arrest him.
"They said they had never seen the crime in progress before," Ross said.
Besides catching the crooks, the analysis can also be helpful in deterring crime, Mullins said.
Cruisers in a neighborhood where burglaries are likely to occur or a K-9 and his police officer handler in a shopping area ripe for car break-ins are likely to make a would-be thief think twice.
Criminals often follow the same procedures when committing a crime. One suspect told police he breaks into only cars that are red, white or blue, the chief said.
Another regular sticks toothpicks into the doorknob locks of houses he breaks into.
When the homeowner comes home and places a key in the lock, the door won't open and the burglar has a chance to run out the back.
If crimes matching those methods of operation occur, the department determines whether those particular offenders are incarcerated or on the loose. In the case of the latter, police try to catch up with them.
Patterson said the use of crime analysis is ideal for a department with limited resources.
With a population of 42,500 and a department with 63 sworn police officers, it's not possible for police to patrol everywhere all the time. Knowing where and when crime is likely to happen enables the department to use its officers more effectively, he said.
"For years and years, police lived by random patrol," the chief said.
This replaces much of that randomness with more precision, he added.
"After 9/11, you heard a lot about a failure to connect the dots," Patterson said. "This is connecting the dots."