Webinar presenters Jonas Baughman and Dr. Joel Caplan answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Community Engagement and Crime Prevention with Risk-Based Policing: Real Data, Real Results. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: Where can they find out more about RTM and possibly to download it, figure out what the requirements are, the technical requirements, and so on?
Joel Caplan Ph.D.: Risk terrain modeling was developed at Rutgers University in the School of Criminal Justice and there are general information and resources about risk terrain modeling, as well as some case studies and examples at riskterrainmodeling.com. The software application that was developed with support from the National Institute of Justice and is available through Rutgers can be accessed at www.rtmdx.gratis. There’s information about obtaining the free version and other general information about RTMDx at www.rtmdx.com.
Audience Question: Where did risk factor locations such as liquor stores, convenience stores, parking lots, and how did you develop that list? Did the system generate that? How did you identify those?
Jonas Baughman: Sure, Jonas here now and maybe I’ll start. The simple way to describe it was, and Joel, correct me if I’m wrong, by all means, as I go through my answer here, we really just wanted to try and grab as much data as possible, and by data, environmental data. So, if you were literally to drive your car down the street, walk down the sidewalk, with the case be, whatever you can see with your eyes, you know, if your gut says, yeah, that vacant property over there. That’s probably a problem or yeah, this liquor store over here, that might be an issue. So basically, we just try and take that lens if you will, and just grab datasets based on what we observed or what officers said, what our community groups said. And then Joel, this is where, again, I, by all means, correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s the beauty of the RTMDx software. It takes even if you put in, say 20 datasets of environmental risk factors, it will highlight only those that are significantly correlated with your crime problem. Is that correct, Joel, would I be correct and defining it that way?
Joel Caplan: Yeah, so, while local police and other stakeholders identified environmental features of the physical environment that they thought connected, or that their gut suggested connected with certain crime outcomes, we supplemented that with data that was shown in the research literature to be connected such as bars — with aggravated assaults — or various other types of risk factors that are well-known in the published literature. Once we have that general list, and, by the way, that list of risk factors we’ve used in Kansas City and other places across the country is actually available at riskterrainmodeling.com. Under the Resources tab, we provide kind of a wishlist of potential risk factors for you to begin thinking about. These factors, basically come from open public records and other sources. Remember when you might’ve had to create a diorama for a school project and you had to recreate a landscape? Essentially what you want to do for RTM is get data and try as best as possible to model the landscape. So, if there are bars and liquor stores and parks and schools and bus stops, then those are the data sets you want. All you’ll need are the addresses or X, Y coordinates of those locations. The software accepts them as CSV files, GIS shapefiles, or KML files then runs an analysis to see if the spatial patterns of crime tend to be located more or less with the spatial patterns and distributions of these environmental factors and the co-location of these factors. Options for data sets may also come from officers’ intuition, and other stakeholder expectations that could be checked, as well as established research. Making these connections with the data sets are as straightforward as an address.
Audience Question: Folks, are a number of you asked for that URL again. I pasted it into the chat. You should be able to see it on your screen. We’ll also make sure that we post that on the recorded webinar page, so you can get access to that after. Joel, Jonas, I don’t know if you guys are able to look at that chat and look at the link that I posted there. It ended up being forwarded from the link that you gave, so if you could just let me know if they’ve done something wrong. I’d appreciate that.
Joel Caplan: Yeah. That’s right, So it forwards to the Rutgers Center on Public Security Website and there’s another link if you’d like, it’s riskbasedpolicing.com, which will also forward to the Rutgers Center on Public Security website, but directly to the page all about risk-based policing.
Audience Question: Would it be possible to identify risk factors with the participation of the community, which you kind of did with the apartment example that you gave us?
Jonas Baughman: Yeah, very much so and on both sides of that, I guess we’d say discussion much like, Joel was just talking about as well. If officers think certain things, or if the community group think certain things. But a simple answer is yes. Absolutely. So, let’s say that our police department creates an RTM that has 10 risk factors, but one that we overlooked, I’ll just stick with libraries that popped to mind earlier. Maybe we didn’t think of libraries, but we go to a community meeting, and a citizen stands up and says, I know a lot of young people are being robbed at libraries. OK, cool, well not cool but in as much detail. OK, we didn’t think of libraries, we can pick that information. Go back, gather a list of libraries in our city study area, whatever you want to call it. Rerun an RTM model, and then we can go back not only for our operational needs but go back to that community group, and that citizen and say, “Hey, remember when you’d mentioned libraries were a possible point of concern? You’re right. Yeah, we ran it and put the data in the model, and you’re right, it correlates strongly, we’re going to make sure we focused on libraries moving forward.” On the flip side, maybe they’re really not, so maybe there was one incident in a library and maybe you know, it just kind of went through the grapevine that all libraries are dangerous now, and we can at least go back again with objective data and say, ”Yeah, we looked at it, you know, we’ve only had one report of a robbery at a library and plus also looking at it from a risk management perspective, it doesn’t correlate either”. So, the simple answer is yes, you can absolutely have a dialog with community members to get information about risk factors and you can go back with a very objective answer about whether or not that is a significant factor in the end. Which, again, is another strength, probably be compared to other traditional police strategies.
Joel Caplan: And community feedback allows for a level of transparency, and a check on the data input in terms of reliability and validity. So, what we’ve seen is kind of the beginning stages of a crime prevention and public safety program based on risk terrain modeling outputs. Actually, it begins with an iterative process of data collection, RTM analysis, discussion of those results and then probably one more round to make sure that everybody is kind of on the same page and has a similar, what we call risk narrative about whether or not the data are going in and the results coming out meet expectations and, and are considered to be reliable and valid before actions are taken.
Audience Question: So, I mean, in short, it sounds like it’s very compatible and very complimentary of community policing because of that interactive discussion you’re describing.
Joel Caplan: Absolutely. The human element is really important in this process. It’s not just the software application, it’s really a process that involves multiple stakeholders and key resources at key places.
Audience Question: How scalable is the RTM? He goes on to explain, he says, he is with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol with stations and field offices all over the United States is looking specifically for the south-west border, where they have 136 Border Patrol stations with 26 ports of injuries.
Joel Caplan: So, one of the images that we showed was the final risk terrain map which was a picture of the high-risk locations for crimes. That was actually a map from Irvington, New Jersey, which was an early analysis that was done probably seven or eight years ago. That’s a town of 2.4 square miles. We’ve also used Risk Terrain Modeling to study piracy on the Earth’s oceans, which is clearly a greater scale than a small township. We’ve seen this work in both suburban, urban, and rural communities. Of course, differences in risk factors are going to be present, and one of the things that we find is that hotspots of one jurisdiction are not the same as the other and that there are certain interactions among environmental features. Even in relatively lower crime areas, there are places with higher than average risks. So, the scalability has been tested and shown to work regardless of agency or geography.
Audience Question: How does RBP work with departments in cities that are smaller in size? It sounds like the principles and the concepts are all the same.
Joel Caplan: They are, yeah. There could be difficulties in any jurisdiction, they can range from opportunities for multi-stakeholder collaborations to the availability or unavailability of data, but in a jurisdiction that is eager to try something that might provide results that go counter to their intuition or long-held beliefs, about what is happening with regard to crime in those areas, this is a tool that could accommodate those needs and those mindsets and provide actionable information for resource allocation in both small towns and large. Sometimes smaller towns focus more on property crimes as opposed to violent crimes, but it works for both.
Audience Question: Can you apply RTM techniques to traffic enforcement in crashes?
Joel Caplan: Yes, there are some examples of that actually in published research. If you go to riskterrainmodeling.com and click on the Topics tab, there’s a tab specifically for traffic and there are some examples that have been conducted in Europe as well as others in the U.S. that demonstrate the applicability at risk terrain modeling for traffic fatalities, DUI and other types of prevention in terms of traffic safety. It’s also been used for opioids and other non-crime related outcomes, including public health.
Audience Question: Is the research available for public consumption? Kind of sounds like that riskterrainmodeling.com might be the best source for some of that research, is that right?
Joel Caplan: Yes. One of the links at riskterrainmodeling.com provides a full bibliography of the research that’s been conducted on risk terrain modeling to our knowledge around the world. There’s probably more that we don’t know about, but we try to keep track of it. If you go to riskterrainmodeling.com, you’ll be able to find the link of research evidence there. I know that there are over 40 publications on there from independent researchers around the world. If you have trouble accessing any of those research articles, please reach out to me, and I’d be happy to provide it to you.
Audience Question: What do you think is the biggest barrier to rolling out our RBP to more cities? And how our police officers responding to these methods?
Joel Caplan: I think the biggest barrier at this point is the will. You have to want to, you have to sincerely want to try something different and adopt an analytical technique that runs the risk of introducing something that’s unexpected. You know, we have pre-conceived notions. We have long histories in understanding the way we think things are and it’s possible that human perception and observation can be improved through the complement of analytics such risk terrain modeling. So, I think one of the biggest potential barriers is also one of its strengths, and that is having people and multiple stakeholders within the community who want to give it a try because they want it to work. It’s not something that you can adopt because you wanted to legitimize what you’re already doing in and of itself.
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