Process of Investigation: Pattern Crime Investigations

Quality analysis of data, information, and intelligence, when related to crime patterns, can lead to substantive results being passed along to the investigating team for consideration as viable leads on which to follow up. It also serves to assist administrators who need to make strategic and tactical recommendations. So, it’s safe to say that quality pattern analysis can lead to quality pattern investigative follow-up.

Critical thinking is one of the central components to tactical analysis and one of the main skills that analysts must develop as they investigate the commonalities that make up pattern crimes. As previously discussed, the analyst needs to have a firm understanding of the investigative process that law enforcement follows if he or she is to form hypotheses and draw conclusions as to who is committing a series of related crimes. As Paulsen, Bair, and Helms have written, “To identify crime patterns, analysts must be skilled in critical thinking and be able to recognize commonalities among characteristics of crime incidents” (quoted by Boba, 2009, p. 156).

Investigating a crime pattern, while working directly with the investigative team, can be a daunting task considering that the analyst is an integral part of the decision-making process and his or her analysis will form the basis of the reasoning behind investigative team decisions. At the real-time crime center located in Rochester, New York, several analysts work in specialty fields, such as homicide or robbery, and as a result work shoulder to shoulder with their law enforcement counterparts on pattern crimes.The level of input the analysts have with the investigative team is largely based on the level of confidence that the investigative team has in the analysts and their investigative, analytical, and critical thinking skills.

Investigating pattern crimes, primarily violent crimes such as armed robberies, relies on quick action and decisive recommendations being made by both the investigators and the analyst as they attempt to project the next event. These recommendations are drawn from the results of exhaustive analysis of the data that pertain to the crimes.

Pattern Investigation

Unfortunately, it takes more than two events to consider a series of related crimes a pattern. During this time, the offenders can become more emboldened as they have now successfully committed their crime while eluding law enforcement in the process. This generally places mounting pressure for the investigating agency(ies) to solve the crime.

However, once the pattern is identified, the investigative process can now directly focus on the commonalities associated with the crime pattern. Identifying factors that point to MO can be located in the data, and the data are only as good as the quality of the report that documented the crime particulars.

A well-written report should denote several critical details that an analyst uses when considering—and examining—commonalities:

  • Type of crime: For example, armed robbery.
  • Temporal concentration: Time(s) of occurrence(s).
  • Spatial concentration: Geographical area(s) the crimes were committed in. This could incorporate space between crime locations in terms of police jurisdictions or patrol sections.
  • Modus operandi: Specifics that directly relate to the crime in terms of a suspects actions, dialogue, weapon, point of entry or exit, or any other unique aspect that differentiates the crime from others while tying the crime to those of a similar nature.
  • Property taken: It is important to list this as some robberies are for specific items.

Using Analytical Results for Product Development

The results of the analysis of crime patterns should be incorporated into a workable product that can be used not only for strategic and tactical planning, but also as an investigative aid for officers in the field who need to be made aware of the emerging pattern and the details surrounding the crime (see Figure 11.1).

Example of an analytical pattern product

Figure 11.1 Example of an analytical pattern product.

When creating a product intended to alert others of an emerging crime pattern (as well as serving as an investigative aid), the format of the product should contain several key features:

Product heading:

  • • Type of crime
  • • Pattern analyst involved with the analysis and contact information
  • • Date of product creation

Product body content:

  • • Crime summary
  • • Commonalities
  • • Incident details
  • • Photographs (if any)
  • • Map of the locations involved
  • • Contact information of an investigator working the case

Crime Summary

A crime summary is a brief synopsis of what the product is about. The summary should consist of a short narrative advising the reader that a specific crime pattern is emerging.


As indicated above, the commonality portion of the product should at least include:

  • • Crime type
  • • Temporal details
  • • Spatial details
  • • MO factors

Incident Details

This portion of the product consists of a chart that details the specifics of the crime pattern:

  • • Occurrence date
  • • Reporting law enforcement agency; pattern crimes usually occur in multiple police jurisdictions and, as such, may have multiple police agencies reporting them
  • • Location type
  • • Commercial
  • • Residential
  • • Location address
  • • Occurrence time
  • • Day of the week
  • • Suspect description(s)
  • • Suspect vehicle description^)
  • • Brief narrative that highlights MO; for example, suspect 1 held customers and employees at bay with a handgun while suspect 2 loaded a black duffel bag with phones

The above aspects of a product are not absolute, in terms of format or content, but the product should highlight most of these areas for completeness.


Photographs of suspects, suspect vehicles, and property taken may lead to an identification.


A map of the crime locations can help the investigative team, analyst included, with identifying relevance in terms of entry and egress to and from the crime scene. There may be other factors that may help to identify why certain actual and geographical locations are being targeted over others.

Contact Information

The reader needs to have a way to communicate with the point of contact associated with the investigation.

Purpose of the Finished Product

The purpose of the finished product is to

  • • Help the reader (usually law enforcement personnel) identify the principal case and examine the distinctive characteristics of the pattern
  • • Help the reader identify other key elements in the pattern from other cases that exhibit many of the same characteristics as the principal case
  • • Help the reader identify additional related cases from cases that exhibit one or more of the same characteristics as the principal case

The following is an actual report showing an example of an analytical pattern product.

Example of an Analytical Pattern Product

Overview: Since 05/01/15 there have been (3) overnight gunpoint robberies of gas stations located throughout the county.


Type: 3 Commercial Robberies

Temporal Concentration: Overnight/early morning (2100—0500 Hrs.)

Spatial Concentration: Town of Albert, Town of Baker, City of Evertt

Suspect Description: M/B, 5’10—6’0, 20’s—30’s, wearing all dark clothing, face covered with a black bandanna, armed with a black handgun

Suspect Vehicle: 2 occupants (gunman was passenger), red 2DSD [two-door sedan], possibly older model Toyota, loud muffler, broken right taillight


Jurisdiction Date Time Day Location Address Suspect Weapon Vehicle

Description Displayed

Albert PD

  • 5/1/ 2119 Friday Fuel
  • 2015 King

1862 Rogers Ave.

M-B/5’IO-6720’s-30’s/Dark Clothes-Black Bandanna

Black N/A


Sheriff’s Dept.

  • 5/3/ 100
  • 2015

Sunday Gas





M-B/5’IO-6720’s-30’s/Dark Clothes-Black Bandanna

Black Red

Handgun Toyota

Evertt PD

  • 5/10/ 300
  • 2015

Sunday Fuel


100 East Main Street

M-B/5’IO-6720’s-30’s/Dark Clothes-Black Bandanna

Handgun Red Toyota


This pattern product report shows an analysis of a series of gas station robberies.

Questions for Discussion

  • 1 What can best be learned from the CompStat model?
  • 2 What are some ways in which a crime analyst can become part of an effective team within the police department?

Important Terms

CompStat: Performance management system that is used to reduce crime and achieve other police department goals. It emphasizes information sharing, responsibility7 and accountability, and improving effectiveness.

Crime pattern: Group of two or more crimes reported to or discovered by police that are unique because they meet certain conditions, such as sharing at least one common factor.

Crime pattern bulletin: Report issued by a crime analyst or crime analyst unit that summarizes the relevant information about crimes that have been linked together as a pattern.

Crime series: Group of similar crimes thought to be committed by the same individual or group of individuals acting in concert.

Directed patrol: Focused patrol or patrol resources concentrated at the times and in the places with the highest risks of serious crime.

Hot spot: When a crime pattern occurs in a relatively small area, it is referred to as a hot spot or a cluster.

Linkage analysis: Analysis that integrates information from three distinct, but interrelated, aspects of a crime pattern perpetrated by' a single offender.

Pattern detection: Occurs when offenses are reported during a relatively short period of time and the crime analyst is able to identify common attributes among those offenses.

Target profiling: Analysts attempt to profile the subject or the suspect; that is, the target.

Study Guide Questions

For questions 1—3, indicate whether the statement is true or false.

1 The profession of crime analysis lacks a common language and the terms crime pattern, crime series, hot spot, crime trend, and crime problem are often used interchangeably.

  • 2 A crime pattern is a group of two or more crimes reported to or discovered by police that are unique because they involve crime between relatives or friends.
  • 3 A crime series is a group of similar crimes thought to be committed by the same individual or group of individuals acting in concert.
  • 4 According to Gwinn (2011), there are common types of crime


a Three

b Five

c Seven

d Nine

5 A hot spot is a group of similar crimes committed by one or more individuals at

a Intervals of three months

b Locations far apart

c Locations within close proximity of one another

d Intervals of at least one year

6 A repeat incident location report is designed to provide more information about

a Nonrepeat incidents at various addresses

b Repeat incident complaints at the same location

c Repeat incident complaints in the same city

d Nonrepeat incidents involving no crime

7 A crime pattern bulletin is a report that summarizes the relevant information on crimes that have been

a Linked together as a pattern

b Linked together as a crime spree

c Linked with other crimes in other states

d Linked with the Mafia

8 A directed patrol uses patrol resources

a Concentrated in the suburbs

b Concentrated only after midnight

c Concentrated by using SWAT teams

d Concentrated at the times and in the places with the highest risks of serious crime


Boba, R. (2009). Crime Analysis with Crime Mapping. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Bruce, C.W., and Ouellette, N.F. (2008). Closing the gap between analysis and response. Police Chief, 75(9). Available at:

Canter,PR. (2000). Geographic information systems and crime analysis in Baltimore County, Maryland. In D. Weisburd and J.T. McEwen (eds.), Crime Mapping and Crime Prevention. Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press, pp. 157—190.

Clarke, R., and EckJ. (2003). Classifying common police problems: A routine activities approach. Crime Prevention Studies, 16: 7-39.

Goldsmith, V, McGuire, P.G., Mollenkopf, J.H., and Ross, T.A. (Eds.). (2000). Analyzing Crime Patterns.Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Gwinn, S. (Ed.). (2011). Crime Pattern Definitions for Tactical Analysis. Overland Park, KS: International Association of Crime Analysts. Available at: Publications/Whitepapers/iacawp_201 l_01_crime_patterns.pdf

Schick, W. (2004). CompStat in the Los Angeles Police Department. Police Chief, 7/(1). Available at:

Sherman, L.W., and Weisburd, D. (1995). General deterrent effects of police patrol in crime “hot spots”: A randomized, controlled triA.Justice Quarterly, 12(4): 625—648.

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