Community policing officer Const. Blair MacMurtery checks out a large format map of Kings County.
By Wendy Elliott
Kings County is a pretty safe place to live, according to a crime analyst that tracks activity in the area.
“Twenty per cent of the criminals are committing 80 per cent of the crimes,” says the crime analyst, known in this article as Sheila Barkhouse. The Advertiser made the decision to give the civilian analyst an assumed name to protect her from potential retribution from criminals caught as a result of her work.
Crime analysts work in a statistical role, performing detailed reviews of police data. They review data from police reports and related police information, then provide a detailed analysis on the crimes being committed by geographical area.
“Ours is a supportive function,” says Barkhouse.
On a regular basis, crime analysts review police data to help them understand trends that are occurring. They look at themes and patterns across communities for where crimes are being committed.
“It’s real and it works,” says community policing officer Const. Blair MacMurtery.
Each analyst works closely with the law enforcement team. They use the data they receive to create maps and graphs that spell out the number and types of current crimes.
Barkhouse obtained most of her training at the Canadian Police College in Ottawa.
Bringing her skill set to the busy Kings County detachments made Barkhouse one of the first crime analysts in rural Nova Scotia.
“I get incredible access to front line officers,” she notes.
Her first priority is to focus on offenders causing the most harm, so Barkhouse looks at files every day. When she suspects a trend, she tries to match it with older occurrences.
Then she creates visuals, usually a one-page crime map, which allows her to share the information with the front-line police officers who need it.
Each detachment now has a digital display on a TV screen that features a constant slide show that cycles visually through the latest crime trends.
Naturally, the other crime analysts working in the province share with each other, and often, they’ll pick up on criminal activity moving around a region.
Barkhouse is able to point out who might be causing harm in a community. As a result, checkpoints and curfew checks are evidence-based, which optimizes police resources.
Barkhouse also monitors outstanding arrest warrants. According to Barkhouse, of the 60 arrests warrants issued so far this year in Kings County, 59 have been resolved. Some individuals were rounded up with the help of the public, after several appeared in the Kings County Register’s Most Wanted feature.
“The public are our eyes and ears. We want them to call us,” says MacMurtery.
With every little piece of feedback, Barkhouse adds, she can begin to “put a whole picture together. But the public have to call.”
MacMurtery says if something suspicious takes place at 3 a.m., residents should not wait until daylight to contact police.
“We’re very task-oriented and we have patrols going 24 hours a day. If you think something doesn’t feel right, call right away. We need every piece of the puzzle,” he said.
The police want to reduce preventable crimes, often property crimes, that result from an opportunity presenting itself, like keys left in a vehicle or doors left unlocked.
“Once we reduce the underlying cause of crimes,” Barkhouse says, “we reduce the calls for service.”
Having the services of a crime analyst, MacMurtery believes, makes investigations easier and can lead to more arrests.
Direct partnerships with Neighbourhood Watch, Crime Stoppers and Citizens on Patrol groups, help supply information that reduces crime. Broader partnerships - including Correctional Services, Crown prosecutors, health workers, housing advocates, social and addictions services - are need to change an offender’s behaviour.
Changing behaviours, MacMurtery says, can lead to the best success stories of all.
Barkhouse might be the one who connects the dots, but she cannot do that without the information provided by the public and the front line investigators working in the community.
“Our ultimate goal is why is this happening, and with partnerships, we’ll get there,” she states.