Happening Now Now

Connecting crimes: New analyst helping Port Huron police spot trends – Port Huron Times Herald

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After counterfeit cash cropped up in a few Port Huron stores early this year, crime analyst Melissa Jacobs noticed the incidents all had something in common.

The city’s police department had begun to see “case after case,” she said, where people tried to make purchases with fake money at party stores and fast food restaurants. She searched for a source using photos of the cash taken by officers.

“We got the examples in, and I found out all this stuff was just being purchased from like Amazon — this is just play money for people to use,” Jacobs said. “It’s not people printing money, it’s people purchasing it and trying to use it in stores. So, we put it on Facebook and I put out a bulletin that went out to cadets, and officers took it out to as many local businesses as they could.”

That was early March, and the announcement quickly spread. “Then, we didn’t have any more” counterfeit bills pop up, Jacobs said.

It was an example first referenced by Police Chief Joe Platzer during a presentation to City Council members later that month illustrating the department’s internal push to get more proactive in deterring crime. In an interview Wednesday, Capt. Marcy Kuehn said Jacob’s job is new — one first posted in 2018 that follows a larger law enforcement movement to spot trends.

Jacobs, a former law enforcement officer herself, started working as the department’s crime analyst in August.

So far, although she hasn’t identified too many serial incidents, she said she’s been able to rule them out — layering data on maps and ushering out needed information to officers on patrol.

“It’s actually very helpful,” Officer Jim Campbell said. “Take arsons, for example. (There was) a string we were having of arsons, or suspicious fires. It helps us out on the road to concentrate in those areas, looking for suspicious people or anything out of the ordinary. (We’re) hoping that just by making our presence known, (we’re) driving away that crime. It goes with any type of activity that we do on a daily basis.”

Filling a new need

Jacobs first joined the city’s police department as an officer nearly a year ago.

She’d returned to Port Huron, leaving a stint in law enforcement near Dallas, Texas. 

Meanwhile, Kuehn said they were having trouble filling the posted analyst position. They had been looking for someone, likely a civilian, with geophysical data experience, she said, and even conducted a few interviews. However, Kuehn said they “didn’t have a great pool” of candidates to choose from.

Then, Kuehn said they considered training an existing police officer.

Jacobs, who had experience in command and reporting data, seemed like a natural fit, she said. And the fact that she was already with the department?

“That’s a complete bonus,” Kuehn said.

They ultimately replaced the officer position. In the crime analyst role, Kuehn said Jacobs’ wages are about $47,250.

Now, Jacobs works with other law enforcement agencies, touching base with officials at the county, state and federal level, including a representative from Canada, and  she regularly briefs the city department’s staff on the latest statistics.

During an interview May 3, she pulled up a map — running software through Google Earth — to show all the layers of information she’s working with.

That can include recent fires, nuisance houses identified by the number of police calls or the city’s blight enforcement, breaking and entering reports or local drug overdoses.

Sometimes she suspects they could be related to the same individuals — sometimes not.

“The thing is just making sure,” she said. “There was nobody keeping tabs on that. There was nobody noticing this was all happening. Major Crime Unit staff probably was (paying attention) but not to this extent. Nobody was full-time being able to say, ‘Hey, this is happening,’ or, ‘Maybe you didn’t notice.’”

And being in contact with other agencies, she’s also able to warn Port Huron officers of what crime may be “creeping toward us,” Jacobs said. She referenced recent thefts in other cities nearby that never made it to Port Huron.

Before having an analyst, the city’s police department still relied some on data collection. But they didn’t always seek out help.

Like when officials tracked police calls to the Military Street Music Café or contesting the rental certificates at properties owned by John and Todd Barcume because of nuisance complaints in 2016.

“I pulled up each address, I ran each address through our police records system, and then I counted each run,” Kuehn said of the Barcume rentals. “Then, I cross off runs that were legitimate … and tried to do it all by hand. She probably would’ve saved me hours.”

How tracking crime evolves

Kuehn recently pulled up an old Times Herald clipping that showed a patrolman looking over an array of colored pins dotting a map.

It was November 1959, and then-Chief Daniel L. O’Leary was using it as a tool to discover “trouble spots” in traffic crashes and planned enforcement accordingly.

She said she remembered something similar when she became an officer in the 1990s.  

“When I started, we still did that. We still had colored pins,” Kuehn said. “And green meant breaking and entering of cars, and blue meant breaking and entering of a house, and red meant a traffic crash — or whatever — and we put them all on a bulletin board. It’s kind of archaic, it sounds like, but that’s all we had in the past.”

Even as technology grows, law enforcement across the region, including Jacobs, is relying on data to help set up selective enforcement. Kuehn, Jacobs and Platzer have also said it’s helping dictate times officers may be on the road.

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For the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department, Undersheriff Matt Paulus said having an analyst in an intelligence center in Metro Detroit is also helping with things like crash data and setting up special traffic enforcement events.

But he said they’re also mid-transition, looking at how to better share resources with neighboring agencies and how to expand it to “make it more useful.” 

“We’re starting to expand that to look at citation data to try and reduce the numbers,” Paulus said. “Top intersections or reasons crashes occur to see if (we) can make an impact.”

And more crime analysis, he said, means more education in the department. Paulus said some staff had recently undergone training and others were looking at training in the next day for an ongoing project related to CLEMIS, the records software local agencies use.

Deputy Jacob Garza has been an analyst at the Detroit and Southeast Michigan Information and Intelligence Center for about seven years. Previously a local road deputy who also worked in the county jail, Paulus said Garza’s current position, for which wages are reimbursed by a federal grant, is partly shared.

Commonly referred to as a fusion center, Garza said it’s partly federally-backed and largely supervised by the Michigan State Police. Unlike another analysis location in Lansing, which he added is “mostly MSP-based,” he said the center he works at is primarily compromised of “non-MSP employees” and other local representatives like him from Detroit and six surrounding counties.

The intelligence task force, Garza said, serves the entire area, but he’s still able to do things for St. Clair County and regularly makes the trip north. 

Before the city hired Jacobs as a crime analyst, he said he also often assisted Port Huron officials. He said the agency is often an intermediary on the tail end of an era when there’d been a “lack of information sharing between agencies — more so on the federal level.”

Now, Garza said he talks to local detectives who ask what they’re seeing. The center has “access to systems the average officer doesn’t have,” he said. When there may be a rash of crimes investigated by separate agencies — he pointed a recent pharmacy breaking and entering incident in Capac as an example — Garza said the relationship will “assist both sides.”

As is, Paulus said the center where Garza works also does a lot of data analysis with phone numbers for larger cases. Garza said its an area of software that most agencies don’t have access to “mostly due to cost” — or “nobody outside a prosecutor’s office.”

In addition to expanding relationships, Paulus said he hopes that also means access to other technologies.

“The other area that’s really expanding is the photo recognition capabilities, and that’s one of the areas that we’re looking into, as well,” he said.

Garza was one of the people who Jacobs said she turned to early on, and she said she got a lot of help from another long-time analyst who turned into a mentor. She’s also a member of the International Association of Crime Analysts, which makes training and webinars available to members.

The association, representatives of which did not return messages for comment, lists jobs for analysts all over the continent with most posts along the coasts of the U.S.

Contact Jackie Smith at (810) 989-6270 or jssmith@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jackie20Smith.

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