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Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety

July 25, 2009

Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety

By James H. Burch II, Acting Director, Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.; and Michael N. Geraci, Director, Office of Safety Programs, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C.

The use of timely and accurate localized data to drive law enforcement operations toward more efficient and effective resource deployment is the benchmark for 21st-century policing. The cornerstone of initiatives designed to achieve this benchmark is the use of mapping technologies that allow unbiased evaluation of crime and crash “hot spots,” as well as the ability to deploy resources both spatially and temporally to increase effectiveness.

Demonstrated by successes throughout the United States by law enforcement agencies that use data collection, analysis, and mapping programs to drive strategic operations, a unique partnership has been developed between the U.S. Departments of Transportation and Justice, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ)—the latter two being components of the Office of Justice Programs at the Department of Justice.

NHTSA, BJA, and NIJ appreciate and recognize that law enforcement officials must both prioritize competing demands in providing myriad services and make difficult choices on how to deliver them on a daily basis. The scope of these demands continues to expand as the number of social harm issues that come under the umbrella of law enforcement increases. At the same time, those same officials face increasing operating costs and diminishing resources. This conflict between available resources and priorities has been particularly detrimental to traffic law enforcement and to crime prevention initiatives.

To help law enforcement agencies operate with a higher degree of efficiency, NHTSA, BJA, and NIJ, in cooperation with many local law enforcement leaders around the United States, developed a law enforcement operational model that can address the competing demands for increased services. The Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS) model places a renewed focus on traffic law enforcement as an effective tool in reducing crime, crashes, and traffic violations in a community. It also seeks to develop a full range of partners to focus on crime and traffic problems and recommends the use of those partners, both traditional and nontraditional, to affect a wide range of social harm issues.

Launched in July 2008, the DDACTS model ensures accountability and provides a dynamic, problem-solving approach to crime and crashes. This approach, grounded in problem-oriented law enforcement strategies, recognizes that place-based policing, “as opposed to [traditional] person-based policing, is more efficient as a focus of police actions; provides a more stable target for police activities; has a stronger evidence base; and raises fewer ethical and legal problems.”1 The application of high-visibility traffic enforcement is a proven and effective countermeasure that addresses both crime and crashes, whether they occur simultaneously or independently in time and/or location. Furthermore, the model’s reliance on mapping tools to identify the nexus of crashes and crime acknowledges the important role that information technology plays in the law enforcement profession and other public service arenas. Traditionally, criminal activity gets much of the focus of law enforcement agencies, while traffic safety issues often remain secondary. DDACTS uses traffic law enforcement as a primary means to address both.

DDACTS Guiding Principles

DDACTS relies on seven guiding principles for its implementation: data collection, data analysis, community partnerships, strategic operations, information sharing and outreach, program monitoring, and measuring outcomes.

Data Collection: The program’s foundation and operations begin with timely and accurate local data collection. Data provide place-based, current crime, crash, and traffic-related information, coded for type of incident, time of day, and day of week.

Data Analysis: The second guiding principle, data analysis, allows for the creation of integrated maps that overlay traffic and crime data. Agencies are then able to identify problem locations and hot spots. Additional analyses may provide causation factors for each type of data, delineate time and location factors, and consider environmental influences on crime and crashes. Mapping technologies used to depict crime and crash hot spots visually are the focus of DDACTS. However, the model can still be implemented in areas where there is no nexus of crime and traffic safety problems, using the model’s seven guiding principles in the same fashion.

Community Partnerships: Third, the DDACTS model builds on community partnerships to establish support for highly visible traffic enforcement (HVE) and alternative and unique countermeasures. Partnerships and stakeholders working with law enforcement agencies are essential components to a plan that provides opportunities for decreasing social harm and improving the quality of life in a community. These partners can assist in collecting information and can drive community acceptance of strategic operations that focus on HVE efforts. Partners and stakeholders can also drive other unique solutions that support HVE efforts. For example, parole and probation personnel can offer valuable information on persons under their supervision in a hot spot. Likewise, alcoholic beverage control agencies can be of assistance in hot spots that contain bars and retail alcohol distributors. A significant component of DDACTS is its strong encouragement of partnerships among law enforcement agencies in adjacent or shared jurisdictions.

Strategic Operations: Developing strategic operations based on data collection and analysis is the fourth guiding principle. Strategic and operational plans are necessary for communicating performance measures and identifying outcomes. Deploying resources in the right place and at the right time drives the DDACTS model. The use of targeted HVE is recommended as the primary countermeasure to address hot spots. HVE is a proven method of addressing both crime and traffic safety issues. In addition, strategies can be developed through a wide range of partnerships and other community-oriented policing techniques. In areas where the crime and crash nexus is not apparent, HVE continues to be the primary countermeasure to deter and erode crime.

Social harm issues, along with the concepts of intelligence-led policing, are a focus in the DDACTS model: “Intelligence-led policing is a business model and managerial philosophy where data analysis and crime intelligence are pivotal to an objective, decision-making framework that facilitates crime and problem reduction, disruption and prevention through both strategic management and effective enforcement strategies that target prolific and serious offenders.”2

Strategic operations require vigilant evaluation of data through mapping technologies to identify hot spots that ultimately drive resource deployment. Strategic operations must continually undergo revision to keep pace with changing data. NIJ offers numerous training courses in mapping and evaluation techniques, and BJA offers the same with regard to intelligence-led policing efforts.

Hot spot identification is a dynamic and fluid process that can change quickly, both in location and in time. Regular reviews of impact data on crime, crashes, and traffic allow for adjustments to the mix of traffic enforcement countermeasures and the deployment of officers.

Information Sharing: As the fifth guiding principle, information sharing and outreach build into the model opportunities to share results, promote community participation, and document accomplishments. Progress reports are an important and necessary component to give management the documentation needed to keep officers informed, conduct meetings with community members, and report to government administrators and elected officials. Progress reports also provide the basis for ongoing media relations.

Program Monitoring: The sixth guiding principle requires the program to be monitored, evaluated, and adjusted on an ongoing basis. This principle gives law enforcement executives the opportunity to assess the impact of HVE in the identified hot spots against the entire jurisdiction. This information ultimately contributes to decisions about adjusting resource allocations, such as the deployment of officers in the field. It also encourages the input of partners and the development of expanded coalitions as hot spots shift. Regularly scheduled meetings with stakeholders provide opportunities to share information and perspectives and to gain input and support for program operations and modifications.

Measuring Outcomes: Finally, DDACTS defines and measures outcomes that encourage a commitment to changing attitudes and practices regarding crime reduction and traffic safety improvement. Documenting change requires law enforcement executives to establish goals and objectives based on the collection and analysis of data. Documented measures of performance against those objectives will produce specific outcomes that demonstrate the model’s ability to reduce social harm and to improve the quality of life in a community.

Demonstration Sites and Project Partners

The fundamentals of DDACTS, including the seven guiding principles, were the result of the project’s initial kickoff meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, in early July 2008. The meeting engaged seven law enforcement agencies from across the United States to demonstrate the DDACTS operational model, with strategic and technical support from NHTSA and BJA. The participating law enforcement agencies are the Baltimore County, Maryland, Police Department (see the article starting on page 24 for details); the Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, Sheriff’s Office; the Metropolitan Nashville, Tennessee, Police Department (see the sidebar on page 20); the Oakland, California, Police Department; the Rochester, New York, Police Department; the Vermont State Police in partnership with the St. Albans Police Department; and the Washoe County, Nevada, Sheriff’s Office. Case studies are being developed for each site explaining how the DDACTS model was incorporated into its operations. Importantly, these local agencies were able to incorporate the model without the aid of federal funding, demonstrating the leadership commitment of each of these agencies to proactive, problem-oriented approaches. The case studies on these efforts are expected to be available in the summer of 2010.

In addition to NHTSA, BJA, and NIJ, DDACTS is joined by a wide array of national partners. These organizations will offer technical assistance and in-kind resources through their local affiliates to support law enforcement agencies that use the DDACTS operational model. Current partners include the IACP, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the National Criminal Justice Association, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the American Parole and Probation Association, the National District Attorneys’ Association, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Leaders from the seven demonstration sites and the national partners were instrumental in developing the seven guiding principles and associated key elements and considerations for implementing the DDACTS model. The outcomes of these endeavors are operational guidelines. The guidelines are currently available on the NHTSA (, BJA (, and NIJ ( Web sites.

DDACTS Pilot Program Expectations

“Data-driven approaches to resource allocation should become a common practice within the law enforcement industry,” said Mike Brown, former commissioner of the California Highway Patrol. “This would be a similar path to the introduction of ‘community policing’ several years ago and its proliferation as a very common operational model. DDACTS is an indication and demonstration of forward-thinking law enforcement agencies and officials.”

The DDACTS program is focused on improving quality-of-life issues rather than on singular criminal or traffic safety problems. The model is not narrowly focused, as it addresses the larger issues of traffic safety in conjunction with criminal activity. Each of the seven demonstration sites differs in terms of community dynamics, so each analyzes its crime and traffic safety data on the basis of the circumstances in the targeted area. The importance of timely and accurate data cannot be overly emphasized; data collection drives this initiative and attracts both traditional and nontraditional partners to contribute to the model’s success. ■


1David Weisburd, “Place-Based Policing,” Ideas in American Policing, no. 9 (Police Foundation, 2008),

(accessed May 6, 2009).
2Jerry Ratcliffe, Intelligence-Led Policing (Cullumpton,
Devon, United Kingdom: Willan Publishing, 2008), quoted in Jerry Ratcliffe, “What Is Intelligence-Led Policing?” (accessed May 6, 2009).


The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department (MNPD) is a particularly strong partner in developing and implementing the DDACTS model. Under the leadership of Chief Ronal Serpas, the MNPD has become a benchmark agency in driving operations and resource deployment based on data evaluation and mapping technologies. Chief Serpas has an extensive crime and traffic analysis section that evaluates various data, identifying hot spots nearly in real time. Chief Serpas uses the CompStat model in a manner consistent with its description in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin: to “collect, analyze, and map crime data and other essential police performance measures on a regular basis and hold police managers accountable for their performance as measured by these data.”1 In addition to holding commanders accountable for crime and traffic problems within their precincts, Chief Serpas uses aggressive HVE as a primary countermeasure in hot spots.

Chief Serpas uses HVE to find impaired drivers as well as individuals with outstanding warrants, guns, and drugs. P. J. Tobia explains, “The stops built a statistical base that is used to shape everything from staffing levels to which neighborhoods get the heaviest patrols.” Chief Serpas says that the method has proved effective in fighting crime and reducing injury. Tobia quotes Kendell Poole, director of the Kentucky Governor’s Highway Safety Office, in marking the MNPD’s progress: “They’ve tripled the number of DUI arrests and they’ve reduced fatalities by 25 percent.”2

In addition to huge reductions in traffic crashes, the metropolitan Nashville area has enjoyed historic lows in crime. Chief Serpas points out in his department’s 2008 annual report that “overall[,] major crime in Nashville . . . dropped for the fifth consecutive year to the lowest level in 17 years.”3

The outstanding work of this department, combined with the strong support and the partnership of Nashville residents, led to reductions in homicide, aggravated assault, burglary, auto theft, and larceny. In 2008 the overall crime rate, which is based on Nashville’s population estimates, was the lowest since 1985. The violent crime rate last year was the lowest since 1989. The property crime rate was the lowest since 1979. The auto theft rate was the lowest in the history of the metropolitan government. In addition, the metro Nashville area saw a 3 percent reduction in traffic fatalities, a 12 percent increase in impaired-driving arrests, and an 8 percent reduction in injury crashes, marking five consecutive years of reductions in injury crashes.4

The MNPD epitomizes 21st-century policing. Its use of state-of-the-art data analysis and mapping technologies has made it a leading example in crime and crash reduction activities. The appropriate allocation of resources based on these analyses is clearly an effective tool in combating social harm issues and improving quality of life. According to Chief Serpas, “In the coming months, we will make every effort to build on our successes through proactive strategies implemented by precinct and component commanders, coupled with close community partnerships.”5


1Philadelphia Police Department, The Compstat Process, 2003, quoted in Jon M. Shane, “Compstat Process,” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 73, no. 4 (April 2004): 13, (accessed May 6, 2009).
2P. J. Tobia, “Chief Ronal Serpas’ Plan for a Safer
Nashville Is to Pull You Over Early and Often,” Nashville Scene, November 27, 2008, (accessed May 6, 2009).
3Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, 2008 Annual Report (
Nashville, Tennessee: MNPD, 2008).
5Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, “Major Crime during 2008 Dropped for Unprecedented 5th Consecutive Year,” press release,
February 13, 2009, (accessed May 7, 2009).

From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVI, no. , July 2009. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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