Analytics has become a buzzword in many industries, but the technology to cultivate endless amounts of data is only as effective as humans’ ability to interpret the information and make it actionable.
This is especially relevant in policing and other areas of security and public safety, where there is a growing need for people with the skills to take data and translate it into concise, understandable and persuasive forms that can be used to make decisions.
To satisfy this demand, the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Toronto’s Ryerson University, is offering a new certificate program in Crime Analytics this fall.
With admission criteria of a high school diploma or mature student status, the program is open to a large range of individuals. Ian Williams, head of analytics and innovation at Toronto Police Service and course instructor, said the program is intended to be wide-ranging, and can attract recent high school or university graduates looking for a practical work opportunity, or professionals in policing or public safety looking to move into an analyst role.
Williams said students will learn the fundamentals of spatial analysis, digital geography and geographic information systems (GIS), along with how to use mapping technology and spatial databases, how to present data in a map or cartographic form, and the analytical principles behind these technologies.
The program also has a required course in criminal justice, “which is really important to help students understand not only ‘how do I use data?’ but ‘why am I using data?’” Williams said. “What’s the societal issue or policy issue I’m trying to leverage analytics and these toolsets to try to address?”
The program has five mandatory courses and one elective. Students can pick their elective from courses covering criminology, geography, statistics or psychology.
One of the required courses is a final project that Williams calls a practical summary of skills learned to solve a problem for a client, which will be a public or private sector organization with a defined need for an analyst. The idea is that the product the students create will be used for a decision by that organization.
Williams said every student will come out of the program with foundational criminology, as well as practical understanding of GIS technology, spatial analytics tools, and the ability to apply spatial methods to analyze where criminal incidents are likely to take place. The ultimate goal is interpreting data to make recommendations to colleagues and other departments, helping to make decisions that are “solid, repeatable and quantifiable, and made in real-time.”
Williams said that police have been analyzing geographical patterns for the entire history of the profession, simply by interpreting the placement of pins on a map. But today, the technology available—GIS and statistical software—allows analysis of those patterns extremely quickly. “So the analysts’ role is to understand, what are my data sources, and how am I going to be able to present this in a way so someone can understand it quickly and be able to use it repeatedly, and potentially present it in court?”
Williams continued, “Internally, in police services and a lot of other organizations, the expectation that decisions are based on data and analytics and evidence is increasing. The analysts’ role, using technology, is to stay on top of that.”
Williams, who has been teaching at Ryerson’s Chang School for over a decade, said his work with Toronto Police gave him a sense of where the industry is moving towards and the need police services and other organizations have for employees with both technical and analytical skills and knowledge in criminology and psychology. He said he was asked three years ago to prepare a business case for a certificate in this space.
Now, as the program gets underway, it is generating interest. “I’m hearing from the Chang school that there’s been a lot of enrolment already,” Williams said, explaining that as the program grows, he hopes to make it more accessible by offering more classes online.
This story was featured in the Fall 2019 edition of Canadian Security magazine.
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