Professors teach law enforcement how to collect, analyze data to fight crime
Two Arizona State University professors have trained the first crime analysts from nine small Caribbean nations.
Charles Katz, the Watts Family Director of the ASU Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety, and Wendy Wolfersteig, director of the Office of Evaluation and Partner Contracts at the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center, spent the past several months teaching methods of crime analysis to several dozen people whose countries have never used data techniques to fight crime before.
The trainees were from Trinidad and Tobago; Suriname; Guyana; Grenada; St. Kitts and Nevis; Antigua and Barbuda; Barbados; St. Vincent and the Grenadines; and St. Lucia.
Those countries have police officers and law-enforcement officials, but no organized collection or analysis of crime data, said Wolfersteig, who also is an associate research professor in the School of Social Work.
“It was ‘boots on the ground,’ day-to-day work and not that evaluation and analysis of the overall picture of events that were occurring, and what the data tell us,” she said.
Crime analysts have three general functions, Katz said.
“One is the administrative function – being aware of how many crimes occur by day, by month, what types of crimes occur. Those are simple things to let you know what a problem looks like from 20,000 feet,” he said.
Second, tactical crime analysis can help police manage when and where crimes might occur.
“It’s who to look for, a wanted person or a serial burglar, the time periods and days of the week,” he said.
Lastly, strategic crime analysis can help law enforcement address larger problems.
“For example, if there’s a problem with domestic violence in a community, they can use this information to develop multiple responses,” said Katz, who has worked with Caribbean nations to address gang problems.
Katz and Wolfersteig originally started the training in person in Barbados, but the pandemic forced the project to go remote.
The project was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which supports U.S. foreign policy and advances national security, and the United Nations Development Programme, which works to eradicate poverty. The agencies wanted to create an official online reporting mechanism to pinpoint criminal incident data in the Caribbean region, Katz said.
“Let’s say your car is stolen in Phoenix. The police come, fill out a report, type it into the computer and create an official report,” he said.
“These Caribbean nations didn’t have that. They had to develop a form with the same definitions across the countries. They needed common definitions, and our job was to show them how to extract and analyze the data.
“Some of these nations do not have the infrastructure that we are used to in terms of internet accessibility, and it was tough on them.”
In order to make the project sustainable, Wolfersteig taught five people to be trainers themselves.
“My office has done quite a bit of work with community groups, helping people to not only understand crime and other data but teaching them how to do their own work and continue that work,” said Wolfersteig, whose office works with partners to design and perform evaluations, provide trainings and disseminate findings.
She taught the trainers how to be facilitators.
“What does it mean to facilitate learning? You don’t want to just lecture, you want to teach them how to interact with people,” she said.
Katz has trained crime analysts locally and in other countries, including Honduras. From 2004 to 2010, he worked with the Ministry of National Security of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to develop a comprehensive plan to reform police services, including adding crime analysts.
“We started with one guy in Trinidad in 2008 and now they have 40 people,” he said.
“Not even all U.S. police agencies have crime analysts because it’s expensive.”
Sadio Harris, operations manager for the Regional Crime Observatory in Barbados, was trained by the ASU team to become a trainer.
"As I took the course, the concept of 'adult learning' was embedded within my consciousness as a mechanism to associate new knowledge and information to previously learned information and experiences," he said.
"I have no doubt that this new association technique, buttressed by the different types of learning styles, such as auditory, visual and kinesthetic, will enhance the Regional Crime Observatory's communication strategy.
"The RCO team is now capable of training its regional membership in the use of crime mapping, evidence-based policing, tactical, strategic and administrative crime analysis, which adds a new dimension to crime reporting."
Additional reporting by Mark Scarp, media relations officer for the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.
Top image of St. George, Grenada. Courtesy of Pixabay.com.