Data Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety

Leading Law Enforcement Into the 21st Century

Futuring in Criminal Justice
••• Technology will advance and shape the future of criminal justice. Colin Anderson/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Understanding the Data Driven Approach to Crime and Traffic Safety

Traditional approaches to policing, particularly in the United States, have until recently been based largely upon reactionary, person-based models. Crime prevention efforts were – and often still are – based largely upon assumptions and “the old way of doing things.”

As populations increase and sensibilities change, the “old way” of law enforcement has become demonstrably less effective than targeted, measured and evidence-based prevention and enforcement programs.

The need for more effective and efficient means of preventing crimes and crashes gave rise to concepts such as intelligence-led, community-oriented, hot spot, environmental and predictive policing.

Elements from all of these concepts have been rolled into a comprehensive approach to public safety that can – with the proper buy-in from law enforcement professionals– help agencies across the United States implement place-based policing practices that can enable them to become smarter, more effective and, if need be, leaner.

Various federal support agencies within the U.S. Departments of Justice and Transportation have partnered to champion the Data-Driven Approach to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS) in order to help law enforcement maximize possible positive outcomes. The program advocates using crime, crash, and enforcement data to provide better services while using the same or even fewer resources.

Seven principles guide the DDACTS program to ensure effectiveness. Through data collection and analysis, law enforcement can obtain crime and traffic information and use it to create maps and identify potential causes. This information can, in turn, assist agencies in creating community partnerships that are geared toward improving quality of life and reducing crashes and crime.

Police and community leaders can work together to create strategic plans and deploy the right resources in the right places at the right times, employing enforcement strategies that make a meaningful impact within the community. These partnerships are bolstered through information sharing and outreach with community leaders, partner agencies, and stakeholders. Finally, they are evaluated through ongoing program monitoring and outcome measurement.

Most important to the mission and makeup of most law enforcement agencies, DDACTS places an emphasis on high-visibility enforcement efforts as a proven and effective means of reducing overall crime within communities and alleviating social harms.

How DDACTS Can Help the Police in the United States

The difficulties associated with the recruitment and retention of police personnel have long plagued law enforcement agencies across the United States. Personnel resources are at a premium for many departments, even as demands for service increase.

The needs of law enforcement stakeholders have only grown more diverse, as have the demands – and restrictions – that society has placed on the police. In short, the social and economic conditions have converged to require the police departments to find effective ways to do more with the same (or less) amount of resources.

More with Less

By employing data-driven techniques, the law enforcement leaders can deploy their personnel and other resources in a much more meaningful and efficient way. Targeted, high-visibility enforcement efforts can prove a valuable tool to reduce crashes and calls for service, which in turn can free up otherwise tasked (and taxed) officers to participate in more community engagement and proactive patrol efforts.

The data-driven approach increases the potential for the law enforcement agencies to be more effective in achieving their mission, offering more preferable outcomes and a better value for taxpayers and internal and external stakeholders.

Productive Partnerships

The widely acknowledged father of modern policing, Sir Robert Peel, insisted that public support for the police is a vital component to successful law enforcement efforts.

Fittingly, community partnerships are an important Guiding Principle of DDACTS. These partnerships create beneficial opportunities for police officers to work more closely with the people they serve and protect, providing context and meaning to the important jobs law enforcement professionals, both sworn and non-sworn, do.

Pursuing stronger partnerships with various community leaders, stakeholders, and law enforcement partners can serve to both enhance police departments’ ability to conduct life-saving patrol efforts as well as further ingratiate officers to the residents and visitors they serve. This can produce the added effect of increasing not only effectiveness but public support.

Increased Engagement

David Weisburd, Senior Fellow at the Police Foundation and Criminal Justice Professor at both Hebrew University in Jerusalem and The University of Maryland, College Park, asserts that “place-based policing, as opposed to person-based policing, is more efficient as a focus of police actions; provides a more stable target for police activities; has a stronger evidence base; and raises fewer ethical and legal problems. These benefits of place-based policing suggest that the police should shift their primary focus from the people involved in crimes to the contexts of criminal behavior.”

DDACTS affords the law enforcement community a means to explore different and perhaps more meaningful measures of effectiveness, both for the organizations and for the individual officers.

Encouraging buy-in and active participation of officers can reduce the (inaccurate) perception of an enforcement activity-driven culture and instead promote and encourage a more public safety-minded individual and organization, while at the same time providing the time and the tools to, in fact, truly be more proactive.

Preparing for the Future

The future law enforcement will likely look very different in the next 10, 20 and 30 years. Technologies continue to be invented and perfected which, if implemented, could make our current model of enforcement obsolete. By employing a data-driven approach, police can place themselves in a strong position to continue to be an important and very relevant partner in reducing traffic crashes and crimes and alleviate the plights victims.

Fomenting a robust DDACTS program within law enforcement agencies requires support from all facets of policing, from the ground up. Strong partnerships and collaboration both within and without the Patrol are vital to the program’s success. With the right leadership, vision and work ethic, the law enforcement community can place itself on a long road toward across the entire United States and beyond.