Researchers survey crime

Published 9:21 pm Monday, August 15, 2016

Researchers have been calling Suffolk residents lately to ask about their perception and fear of crime in their communities.

It’s part of an effort to evaluate efforts to improve the quality of policing and police patrols based on predictive policing software the city has been using, said Maj. Stephanie Burch of the Suffolk Police Department.

Participation in the survey is voluntary, Burch said, but residents who receive calls would help improve the results if they respond.

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The new software takes a vast amount of data — everything from times and locations of crime to the day of the week or the weather — and tells police where to focus.

“It crunches those numbers in a very complex way to tell us the most likely area where crime is going to occur,” Burch said. “It’s beneficial because, as opposed to citywide, we’re able to really hone in on particular zones.”

Each day, Burch said, an analyst sends out reports about crime issues. Thefts from motor vehicles and burglaries are two big areas of concern.

“It tells us where to deploy our resources most effectively,” Burch said. “The idea is to spend enough time in that area to interrupt crime.”

The strategy seems to be working, she said. During the past couple of months that the department has been using the software, there have been several instances of crimes being reported in the exact area the software said they would occur.

“What’s being predicted is actually accurate,” she said. An arrest hasn’t necessarily been made in every case, perhaps because the offenders saw officers in the area and fled.

The survey calls started last week and will continue until the researchers, the Old Dominion University Social Science Research Center, have reached the needed sample size, Burch said.

The survey asks about perception of crime and fear of crime, which in some ways go hand in hand, Burch said.

“Perception of crime is what people believe about what crime is occurring,” Burch said. “You can perceive a certain crime is a problem and it’s not actually a problem. Oftentimes, when we go to a community when we think we understand what the issues are, the issues that are presented are not the ones we think.”

Still, Burch said, “part of community policing is meeting people where they are.”

“Fear of crime is, ‘Do I feel safe in my neighborhood?’” she continued. “That goes back to perception, as well.”

She noted perception and fear of crime can be influenced by a number of different factors not related to how much crime is occurring, such as how many years a person has lived in their neighborhood and how many of their neighbors they know personally.

Burch encouraged everyone who receives a call to participate.

“We would ask citizens that are receiving calls to respond to our survey, because it’s going to be beneficial to us to see how effective the software is.”