Viewing Crime through the Prism of Statistics

While the measures of crime provide us with standardized data on crime, crime rates, and comparative data for states and cities, statistics have their limitations. Perhaps the greatest limitation is that the human factor is missing.

Looking at statistics regarding homicides, burglaries, and sexual assault gives us some idea of the number of these crimes taking place in a location or in the country, but statistics tell us nothing about human suffering. We can learn about the economic costs of crime through statistics and certain kinds of research; on the other hand, we can learn nothing from the annual totals of the UCR Program or NCVS about the emotional toll on families and survivors.

For the crime analyst, there are more immediate concerns: who the offender is, what his or her patterns are, what the offender’s motivation is, and how this offender will best be neutralized or apprehended.

Utilizing Statistics as a Form of Accountability: CompStat

CompStat, or complaint statistics, is an accountability process officially adopted by the New York City Police Department in 1994. By and large, CompStat, as used by law enforcement, is an in-house process that holds upper management accountable for crime reduction within their respective areas of patrol.

By utilizing statistical data, with the assistance of GIS technology, police agencies can track crime patterns and view these patterns in a variety of ways. For example, hot spot analysis of specific crime patterns can display spatial clusters relating to hot spot areas of these crimes and then designate the values of these clusters as high and low, with high indicating a greater area of propensity toward the particular crime pattern, for example, robbery, and low indicating a cold spot, or no area of crimes relating to that same pattern.

The basic principles of CompStat are based on the idea of utilizing accurate and timely intelligence about underlying crime conditions. This intelligence would then directly affect tactical decisions that relate to the rapid deployment of personnel and resources needed to relentlessly address, follow up, and reassess the problem.

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