UPDATE: Columbia Police Department hires crime analyst to monitor trends

Tuesday, June 8, 2010 | 4:54 p.m. CDT; updated 1:22 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 9, 2010

COLUMBIA — In an effort to become a more data-driven police force, the Columbia Police Department has hired an analyst to monitor crime trends in the city.

The analyst is responsible for monitoring crime trends in Columbia and using that data, as well as technology, to map the trends.

The position was created in an effort to conform with the goals Chief Ken Burton set for the department when he became police chief in February of 2009.

"When the chief got here, one of the things he said he wanted to do was geographic policing, and he wanted the policing to be data-based," said Officer Jessie Haden, spokeswoman for the department.

After holding a job search that included tests measuring applicants' know-how about statistics, criminal behavior and law enforcement, the department hired Jerry East, a data specialist for the Department of Public Works. The position pays $50,342.24 a year.

After the City Council passed an ordinance allowing cameras to be placed downtown, the Police Department analyzed crime rates in the downtown area. East completed a "hot spot analysis" to show which areas of downtown had the most calls, he said.

As part of this project, East reviewed crime statistics for property damage, fights and shoplifting, as well as other crimes often committed in the downtown area. East compiled the data into a color-coded map. This map, Haden said, has allowed officers to see which downtown areas experience the most activity.

Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said he expects the map to be presented to city staff during an internal meeting June 17. 

The downtown camera ordinance gives Burton the discretion to decide whether downtown cameras are appropriate and where they should be placed if he decides in favor of cameras. Once Burton has made a decision about the cameras, St. Romaine said he expects the issue to go back to the city council.

Burton could not be reached for comment.

But collecting data isn't just about placing cameras.

The ability to look at trends has led officers to be more proactive, which is unprecedented for the department, Haden said.

"We just weren't doing that before," Haden said, adding that the department didn't have anyone with the skills or knowledge to monitor crime the way East does.

East's job depends in part on patrol officers. It's up to the officers to keep their eyes open and give him directions about where to look for crime data, East said. For instance, if officers think they have a rash of robberies in their area, they go to him, East said. East then compares robbery data for the area for the past few years to see if robberies actually increased for the area.

"I will give a statistical analysis for whether their hunches are correct or not," East said.

However, though he relies on officers, East said he reviews reports that come in to the department on his own and that some of the work is not much different from that of a detective.

"I'm just another set of eyes," he said.

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