Life In The Deep End ~ By Allyssa Montgomery

I never thought falling into place in a field that I love, admire, respect, and am interested in would feel so… incomplete. Believe me, I mean that in the best way possible. It’s never easy to start somewhere new; but I guess that’s where our adaptive instincts come into place. Am I going to put myself out there, risk it all? Make it till I break it? Or am I going to do my best to do what I’m told, get the job done, and fly under the radar?

 

I graduated college in December of 2013. Fortunately, I was offered a job right out of school. As grateful as I was (and still am), I had so many different pieces of advice being thrown at me from different directions. Imagine that kid on the dodge ball team that becomes the moving target when the rest of the team gets hit – that was me. Many of the pieces of advice are not dissimilar and blur into the suggestion of “do what you know how to do and then do what you can to know and learn more.”

 

However, I’ll never forget the time I was told by a fellow analyst to “make sure that I stay under the radar because what they don’t know you can do they won’t ask you to do.” What does that even mean? Apart from the obvious, of course. I was told this when I was in my first two months of becoming an analyst. Why wouldn’t I want to do it all to the best of my ability? Were they just trying to be helpful? I didn’t understand. How could I be satisfied with doing the bare minimum and holding back? How would that help anything?

 

I realized this important decision was one I had to make myself: what kind of resource did I want to be? Or better yet, how much of an effective resource did I want to be? Going to school for a Criminal Justice degree, I didn’t really learn a lot about the analytical field. I honestly stumbled upon it when I was doing an interview for a class assignment (thank goodness). Almost immediately I learned that the field was undergoing a sort of metamorphosis. Both in civil and criminal agencies, analysts were being challenged with a new way of policing and data collection that meant more intelligence gathering, more systems and databases to learn, more programs, more procedures, and new analytical techniques. Just… more… of everything. It’s fascinating, really.

 

For me, personally, starting in this field wasn’t a huge adjustment (surprisingly). I found that I thrive in environments where it’s fast-paced and everything needs to be done, uh, yesterday. There wasn’t a lot of training for me apart from sitting in front of a computer and “just doing,” which actually ended up being what was best for me because it taught me to be a self-learner and how to break apart most, if not all, of my road blocks. I learned how to take initiative and provide myself with opportunities that I may not have seen had I not had to research the “how-to’s” on my own.

 

Which makes this the perfect segue to my next point: I used to be a safe-decision maker… for about three minutes. You know the type. “How can I get this done for myself without really doing a lot of work?” “What’s a shortcut?” Or better yet: “What’s in my comfort zone, or rather, what’s outside of it?” These usually resulted in an “Eh, maybe not” decision.

 

By the fourth minute, I realized I wasn’t happy with my view on my own professional growth. It was like I got hit by a freight train. I started taking risks and opportunities that I never would have thought to have done for myself (the good kinds, of course). I started to speak up in meetings when I had additional information and I started to make suggestions. I just kind of figured that if I had the information, why not share it? Luckily, this concept has turned out to have some pretty good results so far and people in my department have come to appreciate it. In fact, I’m encouraged to speak up if there’s information that was left out or if I’ve found a new development in a case. In meetings with other agencies, my findings started to become well-received, which only helped to bridge the interagency relationships between our offices.

 

More importantly, I started to go places. It’s pretty harrowing, as I’m sure you know, to go to trainings and events by yourself when you don’t know anyone that’s there. Especially when it’s your first time! But I realized that that was why I needed to go. I needed to meet new people. I needed to go out and find new knowledge. Fellow analysts that had different experiences and opinions had a knowledge that I wanted to get a grasp of. I started talking to colleagues that were actually very welcoming and never once looked at me like I was “the new kid on the block.” The point-of-views and opinions I was given were so diverse that I started to find a train track that rode smooth and well-oiled just for me.

 

Doing this made me realize that for me to be the best analyst I can be, the best worker I can be, the best resource I can be, I needed to jump head-first, arms-a-flailing into the deep end. It’s a sink-or-swim type of world. I could jump in and hope like the dickens that I would have a great idea to latch onto and have the ability to throw myself completely out there or fail miserably. Failing at a few attempts doesn’t mean that the experience was (or would be) unsuccessful. Ever. It just means that I need to reevaluate how I handled the situation and learn from it. Learn everything I can from it and then keep learning some more. Try new ideas and methods that are unique to me and find what works best for me. Trying new things has done absolutely nothing but to help me grow professionally, elevate my confidence in my work, and better my work ethic. How do you know the wrong direction if there isn’t any trial and error first? How can you share what you know with other people if you can’t teach yourself?

 

Circling back, the incompleteness that I feel is not due to me being unhappy with where I am and what I’ve experienced. It only means that I’m not done yet. I have a drive to move forward in this field and I have a hunger to learn more. There is always room for improvement. Always. So to answer the original question, I think I’ll make it till I break it.

 

Allyssa Montgomery

Allyssa graduated from the University of Central Florida in December 2013 with a BA in Criminal Justice. She lives and works in Orlando as an Investigative Research Analyst. She is very interested in learning more about the cyber crime and cyber security sector and has set that as her next goal. She loves to do research and find the unseen. As a de-stressor, she likes to play her Xbox 360, more specifically Black Ops 2, but if she is really being honest it is mostly for enjoyment. I met Allyssa at the IACA Conference last year and have spent the last 10 months trying to convince her to write a post for the site and finally the day has arrived. Thank you Allyssa!

The Evangelical Skills of Don Draper

Well I have officially made the move to Colorado and I am finally getting settled in. It has been a very busy month for me to say the least. Now I am faced with a new city, a new department, lots of new coworkers, and plenty of new challenges. I have also been presented with a blank slate, giving me the perfect opportunity to assess how I performed over the last two years and improve on my weaknesses.

 

For those who do not know, Mad Men is a TV show about ad men from the 1960’s, Don Draper being the main character (it is a great show, if you have not seen it I insist that you check it out). There are many things about Don Draper that are not great… Well, let us be honest, he is pretty much a horrible person, however, he is a great pitch man who can sell people on an idea like no one else. He could have sold religion to Lennon or even Lenin. I like to imagine I am good at it but I know it is a skill I have never possessed in abundance.

 

Unfortunately, selling ideas is a major part of what we have to do as crime analysts. It is probably the most important part actually, because if people do not buy into what we do they will not use it. Which is why this is one of the areas I have decided to refocus on, and believe me it takes a lot of focus and effort given my dearth of natural talent. I have always been the kind of person that thinks ideas and products speak for themselves. Actively going out and spreading the word seems like a monumental effort and is mentally exhausting. I would have been an awful evangelist.

 

In this line of work, if we are lucky, the commanders who hire us understand and believe in what we do and they are eager to make use of our analysis. However, the further down the chain of command you go the less understanding or acceptance there sometimes seems to be. Some officers see what we are trying to do and how we want to help them and they act on it. Others may not know what they should do with our analysis and so never act on it. And, inevitably, there are some who understand what we are doing but disagree with the very idea of it and so they actively ignore us. Such is our flock.

 

As a result, it seems to me that it is just as important to figure out ways to sell your ideas as it is to actually have your ideas. There are plenty of ways to turn doubters into converts, and to ensure that everyone else keeps the faith. But they all take commitment and dedication, and most of them boil down to trust.

 

One of the more effective ways to build such trust is by getting out of your office to go on ride-alongs, attend briefings, and simply get to know your officers. It is hard to beat face time when it comes to building trust in your abilities within the department. If they know you, have talked to you, and you have put in the effort to explain how you can help them, they will be much more likely to accept your ideas.

 

Unfortunately, it is all too easy to get busy and let this practice lapse. Do not let this happen. It is probably the main thing I regret not doing more of over the last two years, and is definitely something I intend to devote myself to moving forward.

 

This concept is talked about in probably every book on crime analysis ever, well in all the good ones anyway. But I can tell you, it is one thing to read about in a book or on a blog, it is quite another to see the consequences of not practicing it in real life. Believe me, there is nothing quite so soul-crushing as the realization that something you worked hard on had zero impact, not because it sucked, but because you did not convince people that it was worth paying attention to.

Trading Places

Well I received some very good news yesterday: I was hired for a position at the Lakewood Police Department in Colorado! As such, I have a lot to do in the next few weeks so my posts are going to be infrequent for a while longer. Other than that I hope everyone has a great week!

Always Go With Beast Mode!!!

Well, it has been long enough since the Super Bowl that I can finally write this without ranting too much about how the Seahawks gave it to the Patriots. For those of you who might not know, the Hawks lost due to one of the most head-scratching play calls of all time. They were down by four, it was first down and only a few yards to the goal line, plenty of time on the clock, and they had one of the most hard-hitting running backs around, Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch, just waiting to pound the ball into the end zone. Everyone, from the fans at home to the opposing team to Lynch himself knew that he would get the ball on the next play, score the touchdown and win the Super Bowl for the second year in a row. Yet that is not what happened. Instead, the Seahawks’ coach called for a pass, which was intercepted, and the game was over. It was a heartbreaker.

 

You are probably asking yourself what this has to do with crime analysis? Well, in the intervening time since this happened I have come to realize that this was, unfortunately, a great illustration of the importance of using the right tool for the job. It seems like every day there is a new whatsit coming out to “help” with some aspect of crime analysis or another. There are programs that can “predict” crime, programs that track crime, programs that provide every statistic you and 10 PhD’s could ever dream of regarding your crime rates, and then there are programs that claim to do all of those things plus shine your shoes at the same time. Well maybe not the shoe thing yet, but somebody is working on it I am sure.

 

All of these things can be great, they can make our lives easier and allow us to do some amazing things with our data. But sometimes, for me if I am not careful, it can lead to overkill, leading to an audience’s death by statistics, death by PowerPoint, or simply just death of boredom. With all the things these programs can do, the temptation to put out dense analytical texts can sometimes be hard to resist.

 

For the first couple months after I started in Fargo my work was dominated by products that looked more like research papers than intelligence bulletins. I blame it on my time at Seattle University, I was still writing papers to make my stats professor happy, not creating intel products to make patrol officers happy.

 

My natural inclination was to make a recommendation and support it with every available fact, statistic, and chart I could find. Unfortunately, this tended to bury my recommendations under so much information that the typical officer never made it far enough to actually see them. They simply did not have the time to hunt for the most relevant information. It did not take me too long to realize that my audience had changed, quite dramatically in fact, and that I needed to start tailoring my products to my new audience.

 

I had fallen into the trap of the old cliché that says to a hammer everything looks like a nail. Well, to this recent graduate, every assignment looked like a stats course term paper. I was putting out pretty good products that had lots (and lots) of information, but they were not right for the task at hand. They were too long, and filled with stuff that no one needed or wanted to know (I am talking to you standard deviation). Patrol officers wanted some of the information I was putting out, they just needed it in a much more user friendly form than I was giving them. They wanted names, addresses, and pictures; they did not want every calculation, projection, and map my collection of whatsit programs had to offer.

 

Do not get me wrong, for some projects there was and will be a legitimate need for more in-depth, stats-heavy products, and I really love to let ‘er rip on those ones, believe you me. Strategic, administrative, and operational products are going to take a great deal of effort and require some serious consideration and analysis. But the tactical stuff, the day-in-and-day-out stuff, the stuff that officers need to help them be at the right places, looking for the right people, at the right time, needs to be much more accessible.

 

I guess my point is that it is important to consider what you are trying to accomplish. Occasionally some names, some pictures, a time, and place is all the information you need to put out, other times you may need 20+ pages and more charts than you can shake a stick at to create an effective product. In other words, sometimes you need to make the unexpected pass call, other times you just need to let Beast Mode punch it in for the win.

Taking Care of Business

Well it is that time of year again, time for the inevitable mind-numbing data compilation involved in creating year-end statistical reports. Do not get me wrong, annual reports, Clery requests, and the like are important products for police departments, which means they are important for us as crime analysts.

 

Unfortunately, important and interesting can sometimes be two entirely different things. These projects, for me anyway, are the Brussels sprouts of the crime analysis world. They are good for you, they just taste awful. Annual reports are time consuming and almost exclusively statistical, and are frankly not that engaging of an endeavor. When I am working on these reports I sometimes begin not only to question why I would ever have chosen to be a crime analyst, but also to wonder just how far I can throw my computer. In other words, all work and no play makes Levi a dull boy.

 

For people who have been reading this blog I think it is apparent that I really do love my job, I love crime analysis, I love talking about crime analysis, I love working with police officers day in and day out. This post was mostly just a long way of saying that I have been eating my Brussels sprouts in large quantities this past month or so and have not had the inspiration or will to spare when it comes to writing new posts. Now that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel I should be able to get back to posting on a more regular basis.