Anaheim’s crime analysts stop criminals one data set at a time
The Anaheim Police Department’s Crime Analysis Unit delves deeply into data, mining for information that can help catch criminals.
The analysts predict areas where crimes are likely to happen, find people who were in the area when a crime happened, and identify crime hot spots and trends.
Basically, they’re the department’s secret crime-fighting weapon.
The CAU, as it’s called, is tucked away in the back corner of the police station. The analysts sit at powerful computers, and the walls of the office are dotted with crime maps, hand-sketched flow charts, and lists of things to accomplish.
The three analysts and the CAU interns share a passion for law enforcement and a thirst for information.
“It’s pretty cool when you can say, ‘Hey, I think I found the guy that did this,’” said Crime Analysis Unit Supervisor Danielle Martell, who’s been with the Anaheim Police Department for 12 years.
Senior Crime Analyst Eva Mazzeo, who’s been with the Anaheim Police Department for four years, likens the job to well-placed advertisements or the Netflix algorithm for determining what viewers want to watch.
“It’s important to focus on analysis because we can put the cop at the perfect place at the perfect time,” Mazzeo said. “Your devices and all these businesses know you so well. You can use the same knowledge and skill set to do some really great things.”
The analysts read the crime reports every day, so they quickly notice trends (multiple people committing the same type of crime), series (one criminal committing multiple crimes), or hot spots developing.
“The really good thing about it is usually most days aren’t the same,” Martell said. In addition to requests from officers, the CAU also receives requests from the chief of police and sometimes from city employees.
“I think being able to assist people and actually give them useful information is my favorite part,” Martell said. “When someone tells you, ‘Oh hey, I used that data and I was able to do this,’ that’s the nice part of the job.”
She recently helped Anaheim’s Central Community Policing Team gather data to show in cold, hard numbers the problems caused by residents of a house on West Edithia Avenue that had been troubling neighbors for decades.
“I enjoy working on that kind of stuff where we can actually make the problem better for people,” Martell said.
Martell also combed through five years of calls for service to identify the motel in Anaheim with the biggest drug problem, and in June she identified areas of the city likely to see illegal firework use so those areas could be targeted for educational outreach prior to the Fourth of July.
“I like that it’s something different every day,” said Senior Crime Analyst Ashley Urban, who worked at the Placentia Police Department before joining Anaheim four years ago. “We have a lot of great resources here.”
Mazzeo and Urban were the department’s 2017 Employees of the Year for the Special Enforcement Division for their work on cell phone technology.
The pair recently spoke at a crime analyst conference about their experience raking through computer and phone data to assist the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force. They used online calendars, phone calls, emails, and text messages to identify the johns that frequented a recently shuttered brothel and provided enough evidence for the District Attorney’s Office to file charges without having to catch the johns in the act.
“It was great fun to try to figure that out and to be able to present on it,” Mazzeo said.
CAU intern Viviana Barrera, a recent criminology and criminal justice graduate from Cal State Long Beach, was attracted by the data-driven aspects of the job.
“Crime analysis is fun, it’s sexy,” she said. “It deals with numbers, numbers are sexy, and it can really help other departments.”
“Coming here exceeded my expectations,” Barrera added. “It’s challenging to do what we do as crime analysts, but I really enjoy it.”