Knox law enforcement fighting crime one click at a time [The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn. :: ]
(Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) June 08--With just a few clicks on his computer, Knox County Sheriff's Office Capt. Bobby Hubbs has discovered that a "marauder" is targeting a Farragut neighborhood.
Combining a database of crimes -- updated almost hourly -- with old-fashioned police smarts, Hubbs is able to deduce a few more details.
The "marauder" likely isn't working alone. He or she is targeting sheds and garages at homes in and around a certain subdivision and taking power tools and lawn equipment. With the school year just finished, the suspect or suspects might be juveniles, known as a "seasonal variation" in crime. Rain might have provided them cover, a "weather variation." They might be using a stolen car to haul off the loot.
And, most importantly, the suspect or suspects have ties to the area, living, working or even buying drugs in that same general locale -- known as "geoprofiling."
"If the MO (method of operation) is the same, we can start looking for where an anchor point for the offender might be," Hubbs said. "You are more likely to victimize an area you are familiar with."
Having identified a crime "hot spot," Hubbs now can forward that information to supervisors, detectives and deputies so they can "go fishing where (criminals are) striking," he said.
"You want to staff dynamically to meet the needs," Hubbs said.
For agencies like KCSO and the Knoxville Police Department, statistics no longer provide a mere snapshot of historical trends but are being used on a daily basis to stop, prevent and even forecast crime.
At KPD, Jonne Crick, supervisor over the Crime Analysis unit, and her staff compile reports showing the past week's crimes as well as data for the past 28 days, year, three years and 10 years. Chief David Rausch and his administrators meet once a week to go over all those reports.
"We'll sit here and go through that to see what's up or down, what's a trend, what seems to be working," KPD Deputy Chief Gary Holliday said.
Crick also provides current crime statistics to patrol and investigative commanders each week.
"They use that if there's a trend that seems to be breaking out, if there's a geographical area where certain crimes are occurring," Holliday said. "They use that to direct manpower and resources."
As an example, Crick said she noticed a recent trend in which older models of popular vehicles, such as SUVs, were being stolen from hotel parking lots.
"None of them have been recovered," Crick said.
So where did they go? Over at KCSO, Hubbs suspects the thieves might be taking the vehicles to a car crusher to garner cash for the metal. Metal prices are up, and car crushing sites are not required by law to collect any information from customers, he said.
It is that kind of interagency information sharing that prompted Crick to help create the Tennessee Association of Law Enforcement Analysts, of which she is interim president. It would allow the sharing of real-time crime data among agencies statewide, which, in turn, can highlight trends beyond Knox County's borders, she said.
Crick heads a staff of five civilian analysts -- two tracking property crimes, one traffic trends, one violent crime, as well as a mapping specialist. Hubbs has one crime analyst, Lacy Starner, but also commands KCSO's Information Technology Department.
Collecting crime data is hardly new. Each year, for instance, the FBI collects annual information -- as does the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation -- on crime statistics and makes those numbers available to the public. But the art of analysis, particularly using real-time crime reports, has been a work in progress for both KPD and KCSO.
Hubbs in the early 1990s served as KPD's first crime analyst. The technology was limited, though, and the data not always up to date. Once a crime trend drew notice, it might well have already passed. And, there was a reluctance to share current crime information with the public.
"There was concern about increased fear in neighborhoods," Hubbs said.
But a change in administration in both agencies -- with Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones at KCSO and KPD Chief Rausch taking over their respective agencies -- brought a change in attitude, Hubbs and Holliday noted. Both men championed a system that allows law enforcers to pull up current crime data, maps and specific details of those crimes; the public is able to not only view much of that same information, but also to communicate with law enforcement via text messages.
It's called Raids Online, and several East Tennessee agencies now use it to varying degrees.
"The domino effect followed when surrounding agencies saw (KSCO and KPD) didn't get a lot of negative feedback," Hubbs said.
Nowadays, KPD and KCSO law enforcers input crime reports via laptop. That information is then uploaded to the agencies' databases and Raids Online. The two agencies' crime analysis units are constantly crunching the numbers, looking for crime "hot spots" and trends and watching out for serial criminals.
"Jonne's group touches every report, so if they see a certain name, for instance, that keeps popping up they cannot only target (that person) but let (officers and commanders) know," Holliday said.
Crime analysis has also led to the passage of laws to make it tougher for criminals to escape capture. For instance, analyzing current data helped law enforcers figure out the trend behind seemingly oddball thefts -- air-conditioner condenser units, manhole covers, copper tubing, etc. As it turned out, the thieves were after the metal in those items, which can be sold for scrap for big bucks.
Crick said agencies formed a regional metal theft task force and persuaded legislators to tighten the rules on scrap metal recycling centers, which now must collect identification information from customers and report transactions to law enforcement. Pawn shops were placed under those same requirements several years ago in a bid to tackle drug-related thievery.
"It's just another tool for fighting crime," Holliday said of crime analysis.
Crime by the bumbers for selected East Tennessee counties and cities for 2012 and 2013.
*Source: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
ET MAJOR METRO AREA STATISTICS
Crime statistics for 2012 and 2013
Source: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
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