In order to solve a problem, you have to know exactly what that problem is
One of the basic premises of the successful policing strategies of COMSTAT is that everyone knows what is going on every minute of every day and in every location. This detailed knowledge allows agencies to implement the proper enforcement strategies to effectively deal those problems.
This information becomes very important when your agency is applying for a grant. In your application, you will be asked to prove you have a problem, and prove it can be solved through the project you want funded. Then, once you get funded, you will have to show improvement in those areas.
That takes lots of data. Here’s how your agency can collect and leverage data for your next grant application.
Drilling Deep in Data
The basics of data collection might seem obvious — count the number of calls for service, the number of crimes by type, and the number of arrests. But really effective data involves so much more than that.
For instance, does your arrest data include known associates and affiliations of each arrestee, tattoos or scars, nicknames, or gang names? Can you search any of that information separately and make a connection?
Crimes can be placed-based, so knowing exactly what is going on in a given area, plus who lives or works in or near that area and who is associated with those people become valuable tools for police.
Modern computer programs with the ability to connect several different data sources and plot them onto a map (Geographic Information System — GIS) have made this process relatively simple. The problem is making sure you have that data available and in a form that can be used with these programs.
Don’t forget the importance of traffic-related data as well. Accidents, citations and high frequency crash locations can assist in creating a clear picture of your needs and how well you are addressing those needs.
In addition to better policing activities and outcomes, you will definitely need data if you are applying for a grant. This should never be the only reason you collect data, but if it gets you started in the right direction, that’s good. If you need grant funding to help solve a problem in a small area within the larger jurisdiction, being able to show that problem clearly with up-to-date, specific data is a must.
Other data needed for grant applications includes information that can be found through the US Census. This would include general demographics on the jurisdiction, although you won’t be able to use census data for small areas. But it is important to have this information on hand and ready to include in an application.
3 Keys to Getting Good Data
So, how does a law enforcement agency develop great data resources if they are currently lacking? Here are three suggestions:
1. Start —or enhance — a crime- or data-analysis unit. For larger agencies, data collection is probably second nature, and having an expert on hand to analyze the data is a given. But even a single person sitting behind a computer can be effective if given the proper tools.
This means access to as much data as possible, and great analysis programs that include GIS. Your IT department may be able to assist in developing an in-house solution, or you could purchase a software program with those capabilities.
2. Many colleges and universities offer courses in GIS, data analysis, or a related field. If you can’t afford to hire someone, you may be able to get an intern assigned to your agency for a period of time to help create the processes needed. Have an agency employee take the necessary classes to gain the necessary knowledge and skills.
3. You can get these complicated and complex processes started if you use an outside contractor for the project. Obviously there is a cost involved, but it will probably be well worth it when you get results.
That sounds like a lot, but here’s some good news: It is possible to obtain the funding needed for a new or expanded data analysis program through grants. The Department of Justice’s annual Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) can be a great resource for this type of funding, since all eligible programs need to enhance law enforcement activities, which this does.
Funds can be used for hiring an analyst, developing databases and related computer products, and purchasing computer equipment and software. I know this is possible because I’ve applied for — and received — JAG funding for exactly this kind of program several times. Take a look at other federal, state, local or foundation resources for appropriate funding opportunities, too.
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