Content analysis is the examination of some kind of document or report in order to identify and analyze patterns or series. Crime analysts who engage in content analysis take as their data police reports, magazine articles, newspaper articles, blogs, suicide notes, or criminal confessions. Analysts may do this to develop knowledge about a certain problem or trend.
Content analysis is said by some experts (e.g., Fritz, Baer, Helms, and Hick, 2008) to be the primary method of qualitative analysis. But the data utilized in content analysis are almost always text or narrative, and the analyst is always searching for a specific subject, such as a person s name, a location, or a common pattern.The emphasis remains on the information sought or the meaning of text; this distinguishes it from quantitative methods, which usually concern statistics.
The effective crime analyst must read reports and documents carefully, looking for details and patterns. By doing this with rapt attention to detail, the analyst may be able not only to identify trends, but also to propose solutions.
Interviews are typically structured conversations that researchers have with individuals. Just as in everyday life, one of the most productive ways to learn about a person, place, or set of activities is to actually ask questions of people who have knowledge about that topic. Interviews are used to solicit information from people,just as quantitative researchers ask questions with surveys. However, the difference is that when a qualitative researcher asks questions of a person, he or she is interested in understanding how the person being interviewed understands, experiences, or views some topic (Tewksbury, 2009).
Strategic crime analysts may interview police officers, criminal offenders, witnesses, and citizens, which will add information for analysis, but can also lead to valuable insights. Essentially, interviews can provide a richer, more in-depth picture of the phenomenon under study (Fritz et al., 2008). For instance, by asking additional questions, the analyst may learn more about a crime or series of crimes than an officer may have written in a report. Similarly, although a witness may have made a statement to a detective right after a crime, a follow-up interview may elicit observations that were not stated at the time of the original interview.
Intensive interviewing consists of open-ended, relatively unstructured questioning in which the interviewer seeks in-depth information on the interviewee’s feelings, experiences, or perceptions (Schutt, 1999). Unlike the participant observation strategy, intensive interviewing does not require systematic observation of respondents in their natural setting.
Surveys are the most frequently used mode of observation within the social sciences, including criminology (Maxfield and Babbie, 1995). Basically, survey research involves the collection of information from a sample of individuals through their responses to questions (Schutt, 1999). Survey research can be carried out through mail or email, by telephone, or in person.
Typically, surveys contain a combination of open- and closed-ended questions. Open-ended questions ask the respondent to provide an answer to a particular question. For example, the respondent may be asked, “What do you think is the most important problem facing residents in your neighborhood today?”Then, in his or her own words, the respondent would provide his or her answer. On the other hand, closed-ended questions ask the respondents to select an answer from a list of choices provided. For example, the question asked above would read exactly the same, only now respondents are provided with a list of options to choose from: “What do you think is the most important problem facing residents in your neighborhood today? (a) Crime, (b) drugs, (c) education, or (d) employment.”
Surveys offer a number of attractive features that make them a popular method of doing research. They are versatile, efficient, inexpensive, and generalizable. At the same time, survey methods may be limited due to problems in sampling, measurement, and overall survey design. When creating a survey, researchers should take care in making sure that the items in the survey are clear and to the point.
A crime analyst might survey residents in an apartment building where there have been a number of burglaries in order to determine the rate of victimization and what methods residents have used to protect themselves from becoming victims.
Focus groups, sometimes referred to as group interviews, are guided conversations in which an analyst meets with a collection of similarly situated, but usually unrelated persons for purposes of uncovering information about a topic.
The advantage of a focus group over a series of one-on-one interviews is that in the group setting, the comments and statements of each participant are available to all other participants. Thus, the statements of participants can serve to stimulate memories, alternative interpretations, and more depth of information than is likely to come from individual interviews. The focus group therefore provides not only the data that likely would be generated in a series of individual interviews, but also, when it works well, more in-depth information from the participants interacting among themselves and engaging with one another.
Typically, the researcher asks specific questions and guides the discussion to ensure that group members address these questions, but the resulting information is qualitative and relatively unstructured (Schutt, 1999).
For example, an analyst might conduct a focus group with a number of liquor store managers to learn more about armed robberies and the perpetrators of those robberies. Often, a focus group, in situations like this, can provide a context for a more complete understanding of the robberies than might be provided in just reading police reports of those incidents.
Environmental surveys are used to systematically observe the physical features of a location. This direct observation could include observing the lighting, the parking, and the physical conditions of the buildings. The analyst would want to know from direct observation how the space is used, what types of people are generally present, how they congregate, and the potential for criminal activity (Santos, 2013).
In other words, environmental assessments or surveys seek to assess, as systematically and objectively as possible, the overall physical environment of an area. A physical environment may include the buildings, parks, streets, transportation facilities, and overall landscaping of an area, as well as the functions and conditions of each of these.The crime analyst is concerned with figuring out how the physical environment affects the social environment—how do the features of the physical environment contribute to crime and disorder?
Therefore, environmental surveys are a component of a larger problemsolving process. In analyzing the environment where crime problems occur, analysts can use the information they gather from the environmental survey, along with other intelligence they’ve collected, to gain an understanding of conditions contributing to a problem. By analyzing an area, the analyst may conclude that poor lighting contributes to night-time holdups, or that graffiti on several buildings, along with a litter-strewn environment, might encourage drug dealers and prostitutes to congregate in the area (Taylor and Harrell, 1996).
The data that are collected in qualitative research come from a range of collection methods. These methods usually require the strategic crime analyst to get out from behind his or her computer screen and interview people, hold focus groups, observe citizens and places, examine the contents of documents, and assess the location of crime problems. All of this is done to further the ultimate goal of the strategic crime analyst—pulling together information to help in identifying and solving crime problems and crime trends.