Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The role of the analyst

It is only comparatively recently that analysis has had a recognised role in policing. Policing itself goes back hundreds of years, and police forces can be traced back to 1667 Paris (or the Peelers in 1829 London, depending on who you ask!). Crime analysis in the UK has only been approached in a structured way since the early 1970s however.

After 40 years, crime analysis is still finding its place in policing. We are still faced with colleagues who don’t quite understand what analysis is, and requests for work that reflect a lack of understanding of what analysis can provide.

We often hear phrases such as “intelligence led approach” and “evidence based policing”, but we don’t often hear a good explanation of what these mean. Too often, they are phrases that are used to promote work which, in fact, has little or no proper analysis underpinning it.

Central to the philosophy of “intelligence led” or “evidence based” policing is the notion that decision making should only be made following a good assessment of what has happened.  This allows correct, informed decisions to be made, which will have a real impact on the crime problem.

The role of the analyst, therefore, is to undertake that assessment. The analyst provides a clear understanding of the problem, by way of systematic analysis, which allows decision makers to design an appropriate response.

Please note that what I am not saying is that the analyst recommends the response. Too often the analyst is expected to design the solution to a problem based on their analysis. This is beyond the scope of an analyst’s role, and in many cases the analyst will not be qualified enough, experienced enough or expert enough to suggest the correct response. The decision as to what should be done in response to the problem is the responsibility of others, based on the understanding provided by the analyst.

In order to do this right, of course, the analyst and the decision maker need to understand each others role. Each will have expectations of the other. The decision maker will expect the analyst to provide a clear understanding of the picture, and to get beyond the data to provide an explanation as to “why” the crime problem exists. They will also expect the analysis to be timely, focussed, forward looking, understandable and aimed at solutions rather than just describing the issue.

The analyst, on the other hand, will expect to be provided with clear direction, quality data, access to appropriate resources and systems, support and appropriate time to produce the work.

Too often, however, these expectations are not met. The main frustration for analysts is to be vaguely commissioned, with very short deadlines and often without access to appropriate or quality data. The result is that the decision maker is presented with a document that doesn’t tell them anything they don’t already know and doesn’t help them to make an “intelligent” decision as to the response.

The question you should be asking yourself is “Is my role clear, and am I commissioned / commissioning properly? If not, what should I be doing about it?”.  

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