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California City Solutions: Concord’s Police Service Volunteers Renew Crime Analysis Tools, Improve Public Safety

September 19, 2014
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
The 2014 entries will be added soon on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. Concord’s Operation Wheel-Lock was submitted in 2014 for the Public Safety award category.
The budget crisis five years ago forced the Concord Police Department in 2009 to eliminate three positions that included the city’s Crime Analysis Unit (CAU), resulting in an increase in crime in some areas of the city. It proved to be a challenge for the Concord Police Department (CPD) to fully understand the crime patterns because it no longer had technical expertise for this kind of crime analysis. To solve this staffing challenge, the department turned to their police volunteers who had this knowledge. 
Without the CAU, when crimes occurred, the police department could only counter them  with “from-the-hip” enforcement and intervention solutions. The department’s inability to analytically anticipate crime has permitted hot-spots to become crime clusters. Although CPD continued to organically address developing crime problems, the absence of a centralized crime analysis function has been a noticeable, sizable loss.
In January 2013, during a brainstorming session between financial crimes detectives, a proposal to use volunteers from the department’s Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) program to assist with some ad-hoc crime analysis. Detectives quickly learned that several of the department’s VIPS had private sector backgrounds with technological expertise which was completely compatible with crime analysis. These skills, which were previously over-looked, were more than what was needed for simple data entry tasks. The collective experience and skills of the volunteers, combined with their willingness and support for the department, quickly advanced the idea that a crime analysis function could be reborn.
A group of four highly-skilled VIPS assembled together in March 2013 with sworn and non-sworn personnel and IT staff, forming a Crime Analysis Group (CAG). After some initial meetings and training, the group was immersed in crime data and police reports, working several days a week. The volunteers created a database, piggybacking on an outdated and obsolete records management system, which was populated with 2013 property crime and violent crime data occurring within the city.
Offenses such as burglary, robbery, and auto theft are now being recorded and tracked, as well as going through statistical and geographic crime analysis. New crime trends are being identified and reported department-wide, allowing managers and supervisors to strategically plan operational efforts.
The Operation Wheel-Lock program is just one example resulting from the VIPS efforts. The VIPS analysts discovered that certain makes, models, and years of cars were being stolen at disproportionally higher rates within the city. This lead to the development of a crime prevention program called Operation Wheel-Lock. Through the program, owners of the vehicles that were identified in the analysis are eligible to receive a free anti-theft security club. During the next six months, VIPS distributed more than 900 free security clubs The city’s website features a detailed explanation of the program.
Through the self-taught use of geographic information system software, crime analysis volunteers also began mapping crimes so that department supervisors, officers and detectives could identify crime hot-spots, address those areas, and even link crimes together to identify suspects responsible for multiple offenses. The map reports then became incentive to establish a crime analysis presence on the department’s Intranet where maps could be saved and easily accessed. A unique crime analysis portal was created for the use of all department personnel, where maps, crime bulletins, and intelligence reports could be displayed and archived. Due to the increasing demand for the VIPS crime analytic work, computer hardware and software were upgraded to provide better tools.
By the 10-month mark, a CAU was effectively re-established within the department. This was created at almost no expense to the department thanks to the technical skills and expertise of the VIPS. Their volunteer efforts had such a great impact that they proposed hiring a full-time, experienced crime analyst for the department. This proposal was widely accepted. Grant funds were secured and full-time crime analyst was hired in January 2014. The crime analysis VIPS now support a full-time analyst weekly with custom products, maps, and database improvements.
CPD’s relationship with their civilian volunteers, combined with an “a-ha” moment made great strides for the department and the safety of the city. The crime analysis program refreshed the partnership between a public safety agency and the community resulting in a better quality of life for all.

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