Covert Ops: Long Island’s High-Tech War on Crime


Gang-Busters

According to Suffolk County Police Chief of Department James Burke, the department implemented its program following the January 2012 appointment of its new commissioner, Edward Webber, with a goal of increasing communication, involvement and accountability, and facilitating the accurate and timely reporting of crimes. The data is immediately analyzed and sent to the local precincts and detective squad commanders.


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Suffolk police are now using five ShotSpotters in five high-crime communities in the county and say they are looking into the use of cameras. It implemented its own license plate readers in September 2006 and currently has 24. Eleven more will be deployed sometime in the near future. Nassau has only deployed the ShotSpotter system in Roosevelt and Uniondale.

“The incidents we give priority to are firearms-related,” says Burke. “The only difference between murder and reckless endangerment first degree is bad aim. Priority two is robberies, forcible stealing of property that occur from a person or a commercial establishment and burglary. Finally is larceny.”

Suffolk’s Intel program not only looks at data, but the causes of the crimes as well. Crime analysts look for what drives their incidences, which Burke says is the drug crisis (particularly prescription drugs), gangs and recidivism.

Intelligence-driven data is an important weapon against gang crimes, he says.

“You have to think about what caused a crime and where does that fit into the gang culture,” explains Burke. “Is it related to something that occurred in the precinct? We are getting to think about what are the things that drive the crimes you are investigating, getting to think about what drives crimes and gangs.”

Recidivism is another target.

“If you get out of jail and can’t get a job, what are you going to do? Continue to deal drugs? Or are you going to continue to steal?” asks Burke. “We focus on recidivists. A guy gets out of jail, residential burglaries starting going up in the neighborhood—where is that guy?”

Deciphering between trends and patterns is also an objective.

“A trend would be that there is a widespread theft of scrap metal throughout the county,” he says. “That is not necessarily being committed by an individual or group of individuals, rather it is a trend that many people are engaging in. So in response to that identified trend, what we try to do is develop strategies to mitigate that trend. A pattern, on the other hand, is a particular crime or trend of crimes that we believe is perpetrated by an individual or a certain group of individuals.”

Once identified, Burke says the goal is to make the entire department aware of these trends and patterns.

“What we want is to have everybody know about the crimes, from the person who answers the phone at 911, to dispatchers, to police commanders, to the cops,” he says. “Essentially what we want them to do is to deploy their resources to mitigate [them].”

Suffolk’s central criminal intelligence bureau, replete with computer and video screens similar to Nassau’s intel center, is located at police headquarters in Yaphank. Burke describes it as “the nervous system of the police department.”

Its department’s debriefing program, he says, takes “two bites out of the apple. The easiest way to find out who the criminals are is to have other criminals tell you who they are…so every single person who gets arrested in this county will be debriefed.”

All of the information is then entered into a computer, which searches for patterns. The system then helps the Suffolk police identify suspects, and can also be used to support search warrants.
Burke explains that there are three sub-categories to intelligence-lead policing:

“The real-time analysis of crime and pushing it out to our commanders, the implementation of field-intelligence officers in precincts—that will allow us to develop targets and deploy our resources to mitigate trends and patterns.”

The last part is accountability.

“When we push out information to our local precinct commanders and detective squads, we want to know what their strategies are and we want to know what the results of their personnel deployment are,” he continues.

One of the department’s immediate goals is to use social media more in the future to both inform and get help from the public on specific crimes.

Not everyone is singing the praises of these programs, however. One of the biggest concerns is privacy.

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