Viewpoint: Software puts the heat on Memphis crime
In 2005, crime began to increase in many cities nationwide, including Memphis. In response, Memphis Police Department (MPD) Director Larry Godwin began working with the University of Memphis’ Center for Community Criminology and Research (CCCR) to develop a strategy to attack crime in the community.
As a result of the collaboration, the city and CCCR developed Crime Reduction Using Statistical History (Blue CRUSH), which was launched citywide in late 2006. Since then, the use of Blue CRUSH has resulted in a more than 26 percent decrease in property crimes and a 23 percent decrease in violent crimes by 2010. Homicide rates dropped to the lowest the city had seen in 30 years.
Blue CRUSH is a multi-faceted, data-driven strategy, requiring both enhanced use of statistics and a cultural and organizational shift within the department. Under the strategy, the department uses up-to-the minute crime data, generating the city’s hot spots on any given day and giving the department the ability to deploy officers exactly where they are needed, when they are needed.
To adopt such as strategy, however, the department needed to coordinate a variety of units and resources. Technology alone could not effectively address crime. It required tactics tailored to particular crimes and deployments of specialized units to address violent crime in targeted locations.
The department’s traditional monthly meetings were changed to weekly Blue CRUSH Tracking for Responsibility, Accountability and Credibility (TRAC) meetings involving the command staff and all the precinct commanders. The police department created Criminal Apprehension Teams and a Felony Assault Unit, and reorganized the Organized Crime Unit and the Robbery Bureaus. The Project Safe Neighborhoods model was adapted to investigate and federally prosecute business robberies and carjackings.
The Shelby County District Attorney was enlisted to use civic nuisance laws to close identified problem locations, including clubs, crack houses and apartment complexes. A data-driven Undercover Program was implemented and successfully targeted neighborhood drug sales and repeat offenders. MPD created the Real Time Crime Center (RTCC) with new crime analysis software and hardware to expand data-driven policing citywide. Modeled on a more limited facility in New York, the RTCC is a $3 million crime monitoring and analysis hub that provides investigative support and technical assistance department-wide.
To build acceptance by officers and foster support for the new strategy, MPD commanders and University of Memphis staff conducted a Blue CRUSH training program for all supervisors and officers over a two-year period and for recruit classes. To generate support in the public, MPD and the university also attended more than 200 community and neighborhood watch meetings to present the Blue CRUSH initiative. Precinct commanders routinely provide Blue CRUSH updates to citizen groups, and regular media briefings are used to communicate the plan’s overall strategy and successes.
Seeing the results, other communities around the world have been interested. The Blue CRUSH strategy has demonstrated results in Memphis and can be adapted in a cost-effective manner by other cities of similar size throughout the nation.
The most important thing to remember, however, is that data cannot do it all. Collaborations are key to managing resources and finding innovative ways to deal with problems. For a strategy like Blue CRUSH to work as effectively as it can, communities and police departments need to have staff — especially trained officers — who understand how to analyze the data. When a department combines the forces of officers on the beat — the ones who know the city’s neighborhoods from the ground up — with the power of real-time crime numbers, the effect can stop crime where it starts.
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Richard Janikowski is an associate professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Memphis.