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Crime-fighter armed with data

Brandon Police Service crime analyst Gitte Richards searches a variety of data, ranging from office reports to information from social media, to identify crime trends. Her hiring in May represents a renewed BPS commitment to intelligence-led policing.

BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN Enlarge Image

Brandon Police Service crime analyst Gitte Richards searches a variety of data, ranging from office reports to information from social media, to identify crime trends. Her hiring in May represents a renewed BPS commitment to intelligence-led policing.

Gitte Richards’ sparsely furnished office, with its plain grey walls, is a far cry from the streets patrolled by police.

But it’s in her office, in the Brandon Police Service station, where a renewed commitment to a crime-fighting method plays out — across Richards’ computer screen as she searches data, not crime scenes, for clues.

"I’m like the stockbroker of crime. I sit here and watch my monitors," said Richards, the Brandon Police Service’s recently hired crime analyst.

Richards doesn’t have a badge and gun. Rather, her primary crime-fighting tool is a computer.

Her hiring represents a greater commitment by the BPS to intelligence-led policing — the use of research and data to direct a police response to crime problems.

Sgt. Dallas Lockhart said the force embraced the concept of intelligence-led policing years ago, but crime analysis was a part-time task.

The force’s criminal intelligence officer would do some analysis, but also had other duties.

Richards’ position is a dedicated, full-time approach to analysis, which allows crime trends to be identified quicker. And that allows police to respond faster — within hours, instead of weeks.

The fact the position is a civilian one brings consistency. An officer whose task is to analyze crime data may be rotated out of that duty by the force, leaving the need to train another officer. Richards’ position, however, is long term.

The cost of the new crime analyst position was paid for by not filling a vacant constable position.

Richards comes to Brandon after studying at the University of Regina, where she earned a masters degree in psychology.

Prior to starting with the BPS on May 5, she worked with community groups that focused on health, and crime reduction and prevention.

Through that work, she realized she preferred putting research to work in the field, rather than in the halls of academia. That makes her new job with the police a good fit.

"Every day something new happens ... two days are not the same, so it’s very exciting," Richards said.

Her task at the BPS is to help police officers be in the right place at the right time.

She does that by perusing police computer records and sifting through the information compiled by officers who respond to calls.

Via computer, Richards has access to a summary of calls that is as up-to-date as the last five minutes.

She also scrutinizes the officer reports filed on the Police Reporting Occurrence System. That computer system allows BPS, the RCMP and other forces to share case files and records.

"We try and utilize all that information that we get every time an officer goes out on a call," Richards said. "We try to compile it and analyze it to see what information we can derive from that that can help them in current investigations, or even in future investigations."

Added Lockhart: "What that translates to is the supervisors and administration of the service being able to deploy resources more effectively."

Richards also mines information on social media, where it seems some people prefer to report crimes rather than to police.

She looks for patterns. Patterns in where, when and how similar crimes are committed, or for similarities in victims. Or patterns in the descriptions and backgrounds of offenders, and their past crimes, to narrow the list of suspects.

Like anyone else, criminals are creatures of habit, Richards says.

"From a theoretical perspective, criminal behaviour is very pattern-based. All human behaviour is very pattern-based," Richards said. "Criminals function in the same way in that they prefer to do their activity in areas that they are familiar with."

Some crimes are more trackable than others. Crimes of passion, for example, tend to be random and aren’t prone to patterns. Others — like sex crimes, vandalism, break-ins and car thefts — can be more predictable.

With her background in research, Richards is used to handling statistics.

Using those skills and mapping software, she can generate a hot spot map for similar crimes. She can also track seasonal offences — assaults in the summer months, for example.

Crime trends can be confirmed within minutes, and patrols adjusted to meet those trends within hours. Based on patterns identified by Richards, officers can be deployed to a specific place at a specific time when certain crimes are more likely to be committed.

While Richards is fresh on the job, she hasn’t wasted time getting to work.

She was asked to take part in the investigation into the Hillside break-ins.

Residents in the east-end rental townhouse neighbourhood were troubled by a series of odd break-ins between mid-June and early July.

Especially strange was the fact nothing was stolen. Residents believe the homes of single mothers were targeted.

As there have been no arrests in the case, police remain tight-lipped.

But they say Richards was able to find patterns in the break-ins and passed the information to patrol officers. Police responded accordingly, but won’t say specifically what that response was.

It’s tough to tell, though, whether that response is why there hasn’t been another incident reported to police since the first week of July.

The case brings up an important point, police say. Because nothing was taken, residents delayed reporting some break-ins.

Richards said it’s important for victims to make reports quickly so she has as much information as possible.

"The better informed that we are, the more informed decisions we can make about when and where we need to send people out and who we need to target," she said.

Her work has also proven useful in ensuring that the time and resources for past crime initiatives have been well spent.

Richards’ research, for example, confirmed that a plan to have Citizens on Patrol members monitor Princess Park, plus changes to the park itself, led to a dramatic drop in the number of problems there.

The downtown park was generally the scene of drunken behaviour.

» ihitchen@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @IanHitchen

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 19, 2014

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Gitte Richards’ sparsely furnished office, with its plain grey walls, is a far cry from the streets patrolled by police.

But it’s in her office, in the Brandon Police Service station, where a renewed commitment to a crime-fighting method plays out — across Richards’ computer screen as she searches data, not crime scenes, for clues.

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Gitte Richards’ sparsely furnished office, with its plain grey walls, is a far cry from the streets patrolled by police.

But it’s in her office, in the Brandon Police Service station, where a renewed commitment to a crime-fighting method plays out — across Richards’ computer screen as she searches data, not crime scenes, for clues.

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