CPD 'pinpointing' criminal activity with intelligence-led policing

tstevens@ledger-enquirer.comApril 13, 2014 

The Columbus Public Safety Building

ROBIN TRIMARCHI — rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com

Columbus Police Sgt. Roderick Graham can predict Columbus' criminal future.

Using witness statements, police reports, street information and patrol officer observations -- among other data sources -- Graham's investigative team pinpoints "hot spots" where potential criminals are likely to commit offenses.

"If you know that a particular area is experiencing a certain type of criminal activity during a certain time of the day, then you can start narrowing down that crime type," Graham said. "You're filtering down, pinpointing."

The strategy, called "intelligence-led policing," is new to the department, yielding almost immediate effects.

In August 2013, the department began direct patrol, which dedicates officers to predicted crime areas. Forecasting criminal-events has allowed officers to drastically reduce street crime in some parts of the city, Graham says.

"Research shows that if you can respond to an area, to a call, within three minutes, the possibility of apprehension is greatly increased," he said. "Individuals that were involved in crime in that community, they know that we have a set of officers that are not constantly tied up in calls and are free to respond to those areas."

Essentially crowd-sourced detective work, intelligence-led policing streamlines a sharing process between officers in different departments.

It's a method slightly hindered by its present update system. Notices are usually distributed through paper documents -- an impediment officials say the upcoming record management system will eliminate.

"Say if we have an officer that's investigated a stolen car on the north end of Columbus, then the officers of the south side will be made aware of it," Chief Ricky Boren said. "Dispatch will be able to send pictures or more exact information almost immediately."

Even with paper notices, officials say intelligence-led policing far outpaces solitary detective work.

During Boren's detective days, investigators usually identified criminal patterns in isolation.

"Everything that we did would be information that we produced on our own with investigation," Boren said. "We still do that, but now you've got information that's coming in from patrol and investigations and it's distributed to everybody."

The method's quick results have even silenced doubts expressed by some older officers, Boren said.

"It was kind of hard getting some of the supervisory officers in line and looking at changing policing based on what the historical data was telling us," Boren said. "But if you show them that it works, they're on board."

Predicting hot spots allows the department to develop methods of preventing crime, such as monitoring recent parolees in case of crime spikes.

"We see a spike in that area dealing with burglary, and we know that a person has been paroled recently for burglary," Graham said. "And that's not to say that person did it, or is involved in the burglary, but it gives us a better direction. The best analogy is with monitoring sex offenders."

Graham said citizen information has also greatly bolstered the department's ability to locate hot spots. Residents can help, he said, by remaining alert to suspicious activity. "One of the things that's starting to yield more returns is interacting with the community more and more," Graham said. "You start asking them what's been going on in their neighborhood, what they've been noticing."

With the strategy still in its infancy, Columbus police do not yet have statistics showing how much intelligence-led policing has reduced crime.

However, Graham believes success will become apparent as younger officers recognize intelligence-led policing as the standard method.

"When you start talking about our second and third year, it'll start becoming second nature and you'll start seeing better results," he said.

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