As public safety officials leaf through their favorite criminal justice periodical they are greeted with pages and pages of analytics advertisements. These ads are laden with promises of robust and scalable solutions, improved efficiencies and, yes, the promise of prediction.
While reading the advertisements, the mental conversation may go something like this:
- “Wait, they can help my agency forecast crime and crash occurrence? That’s terribly exciting!” (And accurate.)
- “Let me get this straight – based on forecasts, we can implement responses to improve future outcomes? That’s even more exciting!” (And this too is accurate).
- “So if we combine forecasting along with building appropriate responses – that’s a powerful combination! And they can base the predictions on something other than existing or historical data? That is unbelievable!” (Indeed it is.)
These bullet points (though wrought with faux excitement and blatant overuse of exclamation points) parallel actual conversations. While the first two points have legitimate merit, the third bullet is the overpromise that should cause wariness. However, wariness should not impede a public safety leader’s strive for innovation – it should prepare you well to embrace or debunk the value, practicality and reality of the next great thing.
Ask the questions -- does the next great thing fit into my agency’s:
- Strategic plan?
- Acceptance by the community?
- Needed return on investment?
- Existing IT infrastructure?
- (Fill in the blank)?
I believe analytics is the next great thing for public safety – but it is certainly not an overnight panacea for all things ailing your agency or community. Implementing advanced or predictive analytics will reap benefits but will take work, time, understanding and above all else, data.
So with the ever changing landscape of shiny boxes that promise criminal justice utopia, like forecasting despite a dearth of data, I say “Bravo!” Oh, and that is immediately followed by a hearty “Prove it.”
When looking to assess or acquire the next great thing, talk to trusted, practical sources. Be skeptical and ask the tough questions that make your prospective solution provider think deeply, and maybe get a bit uncomfortable. Such an approach will help you separate the promise from overpromise.