ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — National experts are suggesting New Mexico think small to help fight crime.
Daniel Gerard, a retired police commander who now works for the Institute of Crime Science at the University of Cincinnati, briefed state legislators and others Friday about how to harness data to help improve public safety.
Targeting a specific address – or specific person – is much more effective, Gerard said, than broad sweeps or “zero tolerance” efforts that disrupt a whole neighborhood and breed community distrust.
He showed off a series of analytical tools developed at the University of Cincinnati that can help police and prosecutors spot trends, share data and identify people or places to target in a “very surgical and precise” way, he said.
Gerard and others from the university have been meeting with Albuquerque police, Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies and similar organizations this week. They briefed a bipartisan panel of lawmakers, the Criminal Justice Reform Subcommittee, on Friday.
Gerard’s team works throughout the country to use academic research to shape crime-fighting strategies. Some communities hire the institute to help analyze their crime data and build systems that make it easier for agencies to share information with each other.
“Decisions we make every day in the criminal justice system are based on incomplete information,” Gerard said, because people or agencies don’t talk to each other.
His presentation came as New Mexico lawmakers wrestle with how to address the state’s rising crime rates.
Gerard said a relatively small number of people and places tend to drive crime rates.
Analytical tools can help identify networks of people – suspects who’ve been arrested together in the past, for example – and show connections that can help get to the “shot caller” behind, say, a recent spate of gang violence.
The data can also help pinpoint where social services are needed, he said.
And it’s important, Gerard said, to focus attention in a granular way, not on an entire section of a city. Even in the worst neighborhood, he said, the people causing trouble are just a fraction of a percentage point of the residents living there.
Paul Haidle, senior policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, urged lawmakers to be cautious about analytical tools because they can be biased by race and poverty.
If an internal computer system identifies someone as a gang member – because of their friends on social media, for example – the person has no way of contesting the designation, Haidle said, even though it may influence how police treat them in a traffic stop.
“There needs to be transparency,” Haidle said. “There has to be accountability to the public.”