Rich Janikowski isn't just a criminology professor. He's the backbone of Blue Crush, the Memphis Police Department's (MPD) data-driven strategy that identifies concentrations of criminal activity.
Each morning, the University of Memphis professor and a team of three others enter police-incident data into a computer program. The program then creates a map, pinpointing areas where recent crime has occurred.
"The MPD does do some level of their own mapping, but they don't have every fancy whiz-bang that we've got," says Janikowski. "When they do it, they get a bunch of dots. Often, when they would look at hotspots, they'd look at it by ward. [But our program will show] that it's just this little area of a ward that's driving everything up. It's an apartment complex or a street segment."
Janikowski uses statistical programs to further focus hotspots. For example, they can determine the distance from one offense to another or what days and times offenses most often occur.
This method, dubbed Blue Crush by the MPD, has resulted in 1,477 arrests in the past nine months, and now the Shelby County sheriff's office wants to do a similar operation. But the job is too big for the small group at the U of M responsible for compiling the data.
"We've been talking back and forth with the sheriff's office, but we're at our maximum," says Janikowski. "Soon we're going to be rolling out maps for every precinct [in the MPD], and there's only so many of us."
Currently, the MPD is trying to determine a protocol for training officers on the software so they will not have to rely on the U of M. Public Information Officer Vince Higgins says they would like to have enough officers trained by the next calendar year to work in each precinct. Currently, Blue Crush is only utilized in selected areas of the city due to a lack of trained manpower.
"The police department will need a crime analyst in every precinct and a crime analyst downtown to look at the bigger picture. You're talking about 12 to 13 people," says Janikowski.
The sheriff's office does perform some level of crime mapping, though not to the extent that Blue Crush does. County Public Information Officer Steve Shular says they often use mapping to target car-crash hotspots. Then they send officers out to run radar in those places.
"It's not like years ago when officers would go out to these honey-holes and catch speeders, say over a certain hill where people might naturally speed," says Shular. "Now our traffic enforcement efforts are geared in places where we have the most accidents."
Other cities are also looking at the Blue Crush model. Next month, members of Detroit's police department will be in Memphis to observe the MPD's model in action. The city of New York has been using a similar model for the past 15 years, reducing their overall crime rate by 70 percent.
"[New York City has] reduced crime tremendously, going from a time when everyone was scared of New York to New York being an incredibly safe place," says Janikowski. "People say, why isn't it down 70 percent here? It took them 15 years."