Crime analysts analyze patterns in criminal behavior in order to catch criminals, predict patterns and motives of criminals, and improve the responsiveness of law enforcement agencies.
Crime has always been a major social problem, especially in heavily populated areas. Police and other law-enforcement officials work to detect and apprehend criminals and protect citizens from robbery violence, and other criminal acts. They are assisted by crime analysts, civilian workers who are hired to study crime statistics and patterns in order to give law enforcement officials an extra edge in fighting crime.
The earliest crime analysts simple analyzed raw crime statistics. Today, crime analysts use new computer software, databases, and geographic information systems to predict and even prevent crimes. In recent years, crime analysis has become a popular career choice. This new technology and the emergence of community-oriented policing—which puts officers on the streets as opposed to behind a desk—have created many new opportunities for trained crime analysts.
Crime analysts try to uncover and piece together information about crime patterns, crime trends, and criminal suspects. It’s a job that varies wildly from day to day and from one law enforcement agency to the next. At its core is a systematic process that involves collecting, categorizing, analyzing, and sharing information in order to help the agency that a crime analyst works for to better deploy officers on the street, work through difficult investigations, and increase arrests of criminals.
The basic work of a crime analyst involves collecting crime data from a range of sources, including police reports, statewide computer databases, crime newsletters, word-of-mouth tips, and interviews with suspects. To be of use, this information is then analyzed for patterns. Crime analysts are constantly vigilant for details that are similar or familiar. In addition to specific crime data, a crime analyst might study general factors such as population density the demographic makeup of the population, commuting patterns, economic conditions (average income, poverty level, job availability), effectiveness of law enforcement agencies, citizens’ attitudes toward crime, and crime reporting practices.
“You get a feel for it after a while,” says Michelle Stone who heads a police department’s crime analysis unit in Irvine, a town of 98,000 in northern California. She tells of reading a teletype recently that described a suspect in a bank robbery “Something about the description of his nose and hairline rung a bell,” she says. By combing through some old teletypes, she found a similar description and called the agency that had arrested the man before. In doing so, she was able to uncover the man’s name and obtain a photo of him that matched a surveillance photo from the bank.
The responsibilities of a crime analyst are often dependent upon the needs of their police department or law enforcement agency One morning’s tasks might include writing a profile on a particular demographic group’s criminal patterns. On another day an analyst could meet with the police chief to discuss an unusual string of local car thefts. Less frequently the work includes going on “ride-alongs” with street cops, visiting a crime scene, or meeting with crime analysts from surrounding jurisdictions to exchange information about criminals who are plaguing the region. Occasionally a crime analyst is pulled off of everyday responsibilities in order to work exclusively on a task force, usually focusing on a rash of violent crimes. As an ongoing responsibility, a crime analyst might he charged with tracking and monitoring “known offenders” (sex offenders, career criminals, repeat juvenile offenders, and parolees).
New computer technology has had a profound impact on the profession of crime analysis, helping it grow by leaps and bounds. In its earliest days, crime analysis simply meant gathering straight statistics on crime. Now these same statistics—coupled with specialized software—allow crime analysts to actually anticipate and prevent criminal activity.
The use of this analysis falls into three broad categories: tactical, strategic, and administrative. Tactical crime analysis aims at giving police officers and detectives prompt, in-the-field information that could lead to an arrest. These are the “hot” items that land on a crime analyst’s desk, usually pertaining to specific crimes and offenders. For example, a criminal’s mode of operation (MO.) can be studied in order to predict who the likely next tar gets or victims will be. The police can then set up stakeouts or saturate the area with patrol cars. Tactical analysis is also used to do crime-suspect correlation, which involves identifying suspects for certain crimes based on their criminal histories.
Strategic analysis deals with finding solutions to long-range problems and crime trends. For instance, a crime analyst could create a crime trend forecast, based on current and past criminal activity using computer soft ware. An analyst might also perform a “manpower deployment” study to see if the police department is making best use of its personnel. Another aspect of strategic analysis involves collating and disseminating demographic data on victims and geographic areas experiencing high crime rates so that the police are able to beef up crime prevention efforts.
Lastly administrative analysis helps to provide policy-making information to a police department’s administration. This might include a statistical study on the activity levels of police officers that would support a request for hiring more officers. Administrative work could also include creating graphs and charts that are used in management presentations or writing a speech on local crime prevention to give to the city council.
While there are still a few law enforcement agencies that will hire crime analysts with only a high school diploma, it is becoming less common. Jane Mayer, who works for the police department in Fort Collins, Colorado, says, “Crime analysis used to be a field that a person could stray into, but most new analysts now are trained or educated specifically for the career.”
“While you’re finishing up high school, it pays to hone your writing skills,” Stone says. “You have to understand different styles of communicating so that you’re able to write to the street cop and also to the city council.” A good foundation in algebra will help with statistics classes in college. Moreover, take advantage of your school’s computer lab, as basic knowledge of computers, word processing, spreadsheets, and databases is important.
The majority of agencies require a bachelor’s degree for the position of crime analyst. Stone earned her bachelor degree in criminal justice, but it wasn’t until her senior year of college that she actually learned about the field of crime analysis. “I had been trying to figure out how I wanted to use my degree. Then a senior seminar course in crime analysis was offered—the first of its kind, It sparked my interest and I began volunteering in my instructor’s unit.” When a job opened in the unit, Stone applied and was hired. Mayer, on the other hand, learned about crime analysis in high school and designed a personalized degree in criminology accordingly Other excel lent degrees to consider include statistics, criminal justice, computer science, and sociology
Stone and Mayer agree that an internship during college is the best way to get a foot in the door and gain on-the-job experience. “Because of lean staffing, most units rely heavily on interns for support. The best thing is to contact a unit and talk with the crime analyst there,” says Mayer. She adds that a strong candidate for an internship would be organized, computer-literate, and have a basic understanding of statistics. In Mayer unit, interns initially begin by reading police reports, learning how to glean significant facts and patterns from them. “It’s pretty exciting the first time a spark goes off and an intern says, “Hey there’s a pattern here!”
Certification or Licensing
Currently, only California offers a formal, state-sponsored certification pro gram for crime analysts. The first university to offer the program was California State at Fullerton. Currently, four universities in the state offer it. To be certified, a person takes 36 to 40 hours of courses. The curriculum focuses on crime analysis, criminal intelligence analysis, investigative analysis, and law enforcement research methods and statistics. Certification also requires prerequisites in criminal law; a competency in computer software, and 400 hours of work experience, which is often earned volunteering at a police department.
The Society of Certified Criminal Analysts also offers two levels of certification, regular and lifetime. Candidates for Regular certification must have two years of college education, be a working analyst, and successfully complete a written and practical test. Those who have earned the regular certification must recertify every three years. Candidates for Lifetime certification must have four years of college and ten years of “analytical experience” in the field.
Crime analysts need to be inquisitive, logical, and have a good memory for what they hear and read. A willingness to dig in and do this sort of research is also important, since much of the work involves piecing together disparate bits of information. Ask Steven Gottlieb, MPA, an internationally recognized crime analysis trainer, consultant, and executive director of the Alpha Group Center for Crime and Intelligence Analysis, just who will make a good crime analyst and he laughs, “Somebody who does crossword puzzles in ink.” He explains that crime analysts love the process of working with bits of data that in and of themselves mean nothing. “It’s only when you put them together that a clear picture emerges,” he says.
Even though crime analysts aren’t out on the streets, they’re immersed in the law enforcement milieu and come into contact with information that’s potentially disturbing. “If a person becomes especially upset after reading reports on a murder or a child’s molestation in the newspaper or after seeing a crime scene photo on television,” notes Mayer, “they’re probably not cut out for this line of work.”
It’s important to note that a crime analyst has to be willing to work in the background and not always be in the limelight. The positive side is that a crime analyst plays a significant role in all of the big cases, but doesn’t have to wear a bulletproof vest in 100-degree heat or direct traffic in the rain. “You can play cop without the danger,” jokes Stone.
There are plenty of ways that you can begin your own training and education now. First of all, get some exposure to the law enforcement community by volunteering at the local police department. Many towns have a Boy Scouts Explorers program in which students (of both sexes) work and take mini-courses in law enforcement.
The majority of crime analysts are employed by local and state law enforcement agencies. A great number are also hired by federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Customs Department, and the Department of Justice. In addition, some private security firms hire people with training in crime analysis.
While there’s not a single, central clearinghouse for all crime analyst jobs, there are several places to look for listings. By becoming a member of the International Association of Crime Analysts (IACA), you’ll receive a newsletter that includes job openings. Mayer also advises finding out if there’s a state association of crime analysts where you live and attending meetings, if possible. However, recent graduates would be best advised to be willing to move out of state if the job pickings are slim there.
The key to getting a job in the field is doing an internship in college (see “Postsecondary Training”). In the past six months, Mayer has assisted several agencies who are hiring crime analysts for the first time. “It’s not unusual for recent college graduates to be hired, but all of these people had done internships.” Stone adds that a new crime analyst would have a solid shot at finding a job in a larger, established unit where he or she could volunteer first, learning from someone with greater experience.
As a broad generalization, most crime analysts are not pushing and shoving to climb the career ladder. Since theirs is often a one- or two-person, non- hierarchical unit within an agency, they more likely chose crime analysis because they relish the nature of the work itself. Obviously, advancement possibilities depend largely on the size and structure of the agency a crime analyst works for. In larger agencies, there are sometimes senior analysts, supervising analysts, or crime analysis managers. Some of these positions require a master’s degree.
More often, crime analysts set their sights on increasing the impact they have on the agency and community in which they work. Stone says she sees herself staying in Irvine’s unit and helping to establish a regional approach to crime analysis. “In the Bay Area, each agency has its own crime analysis unit and its own information system,” she explains. “I’d like to work toward combining these resources and linking the individual systems.”
Two careers that are closely linked to crime analysts are criminal intelligence analyst and investigative analyst. Criminal intelligence analysis involves the study of relationships between people, organizations, and events; it focuses on organized crime, money laundering, and other conspiratorial crimes. Investigative analysis attempts to uncover why a person is commit ting serial crimes such as murder and rape. Getting into the field of investigative analysis (sometimes called “profiling”) usually requires years of experience and additional education in psychology—as well as good instincts.
The beginning salary for a crime analyst is about $24,000. With several years of experience, crime analysts can expect to earn $34,000 to $42,000, and the most experienced crime analysts earn about $60,000. Salaries tend to be higher in the East and West where crime analysis is more established as a profession and where the cost of living is higher. For instance, in California, a typical starting salary ranges from $27,000 to $40,000.
Your duties will vary based on the requirements of the law enforcement agency you work for. Most days you will be working in the office analyzing crime information; occasionally, though, you may go on a “ride-along” with police officers or visit a crime scene to gather more information. Crime scenes can often be disturbing, and you will need to act in a professional manner in these situations.
You will constantly be communicating with police chiefs, officers in the field, and fellow crime analysts as you work on a case. You will need to establish good working relationships with officers who sometimes initially resent working with a civilian employee. “Sometimes I’ll come up with a good lead, but the officer on the beat doesn’t take it up,” Stone says. “You need to have tough skin and focus on working with those who want to work with you.”
In the last five years, there has been a tremendous surge of interest in the field of crime analysis. One factor has been the emergence of community-oriented policing. This concept strives to get police officers out on the streets of their communities, rather than sitting at a desk. Stone comments, “You want to put somebody behind a desk who actually wants to be there. The push in many departments is to ‘civilianize’ job functions so that police officers can work smarter, not harder.” Crime analysis makes good use of the information that police officers collect on the streets. “With a limited number of officers, departments have to ask, ‘What’s the best use of their time?” says Gottlieb. “Good crime analysis helps to deploy officers in the right places at the right times.”
The field is also growing because better software is becoming available. “Statistics are age-old,” Gottlieb says, “but doing them by hand was cumber some. The newest technology—like sophisticated databases and geographic mapping systems—gives us increased capabilities.”
U.S. News and World Report selected crime analyst as one of the “hot track” careers in 1996. The article states that the demand for this brand of technical analysis and computer know-how has increased tenfold in the past 15 years.
While this growth trend is expected to continue, it’s important to recognize that it is still a competitive job market. Those who want to become crime analysts should be willing to move to find an agency with a job opening. They should also bear in mind that police departments are historically more likely to lay off a civilian than a street officer.
For More Information...
Contact the ASC for Information on careers in criminology.
American Society of Criminology (ASC)
1314 Kinnear Road, Suite 212
Columbus, OH 43212-1156
For information on certification, contact:
Society of Certified Criminal Analysts
PO Box 631
Cape Neddick, ME 03902
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