IACP Quick Take: Analysis-driven operations for small agencies

Even the smallest departments can conduct basic crime analysis and evaluation of the impact of police operations


Modern law enforcement leaders must constantly balance the safety of their communities and the best use of their scarce resources. In smaller agencies, limited staff and budgets intensify this balancing act.

Through an agency-wide commitment to quality police report-writing and accurate data collection, even the smallest departments can conduct basic crime analysis and evaluation of the impact of police operations.

Two police chiefs and a senior crime analyst participated in an IACP 2021 presentation on the uses of DDACTS (Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety) for reducing crime and traffic collisions, and also as a tool for engaging community stakeholders.

The presenters were Chief Lance Arnold of the Weatherford (Texas) Police Department, Chief Brett Railey (ret.) of Winter Park, Florida and Senior Crime Analyst Debra Piehl of IADLEST (International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training).

Memorable quotes

“DDACTS is a long-term approach to a historical problem. Where you’ve had long-term crime, long-term crashes, we can go in with enforcement. It can be the deployment of a single vehicle, a single person into that area doing high-visibility traffic engagement, and it can impact positively on both (crashes and felony crime).” — Chief Railey

“Even though we predominantly were proactive throughout our three DDACTS zones, overall throughout the entire city (even) in our non-DDACTS zones, we still saw a reduction (in motor vehicle burglaries). That culture of being more visible, more engaged with traffic, with our community, really flowed over into the rest of the city.” — Chief Arnold

“Threshold analysis allows you to identify those incidents that are occurring at a greater or lesser rate than would be expected based on historical data. So, anyone with some basic analytical skills can dig into the crimes a little more specifically...to get right at the details of what you’re seeking to address, and thereby drive your operations.” — Senior Analyst Piehl

Top takeaways

The panelists identified several takeaways for small agencies: 

  • Parkinson’s Law – the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” – applies to law enforcement as well as business. In order to use resources well, you have to know how they’re being expended now.
  • Existing processes and “best practices” can have unintended consequences. One is the drive to document at length every interaction officers have with the public; more reports equals less proactive policing. Focus on traffic stops, not on citations.
  • Data analysis allows departments to prioritize types of incidents to allocate scarce resources more efficiently and effectively. All intersections don’t need the same level of attention. All business addresses don’t run the same risk for burglaries or vandalism. Focus on trouble spots and the rest get safer too.
  • One analyst is enough for a small department (70 officers or less). You don’t necessarily have to hire a professional crime analyst; there might already be someone on staff, sworn or civilian, with the interest, intellect, basic computer skills and time to do the job.
  • Use analysis to make the most impact with existing resources. Data analysis helps to discover when and where crime and crashes are occurring, how work hours are being expended and to identify problems to be addressed. 
  • Making traffic stops in the right places at the right times can decrease traffic fatalities and residential burglaries even when warnings are issued rather than citations.
  • Involve the community in changes and decision-making. Make use of news sources, press conferences, community meetings and social media so people know what to expect and why changes are being made.
  • Most importantly: ensure that operations in response to analysis don’t cause unintended harm.

DDACTS is an operational, location-based model that may seem overwhelming for a small law enforcement agency. After all, new approaches are often met with some resistance by both officers and the public. Change is hard. Nevertheless, analysis of data that’s likely already available and waiting to be organized, with the participation of community partners and stakeholders, can benefit both the community and law enforcement agencies as traffic patterns become safer, crime levels fall and pressure is reduced on staff and supervisors.

Additional information on DDACTS

NEXT: Making big data small: The importance of relevant data collection for crime-fighting

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