7/12/99: Mapping Out Crime: Strengthen Federal Law Enforcement's Capacity to Use Data and Mapping in Management and Operations


Mapping Out Crime Table of Contents



Like their local counterparts, U.S. Attorneys and federal law enforcement agencies are harnessing the power of crime mapping and data-driven management. Whether coordinating drug enforcement efforts on the Southwest border or enhancing public safety in Indianapolis, Winston-Salem, and other cities participating in the Strategic Approaches to Community Safety Initiative, federal law enforcement agents are using timely information and geographic display and analysis to increase their effectiveness.

In particular, some U.S. Attorney's Offices, which are at the crossroads of every federal investigation and prosecution, are finding that sophisticated information tools and techniques facilitate cooperation among federal agencies. For example, beginning in 1992, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York began to work with local and other federal law enforcement officials to select neighborhoods with skyrocketing murder rates attributable to entrenched gang activity. In an innovative use of federal racketeering statutes, the prosecutor's office began a sustained effort to arrest and incarcerate the groups of murderers responsible for those rates. In every neighborhood in which these cases were brought, murder rates dropped by more than 50 percent following gang arrests.


In interviews and meetings held by the Task Force, local and federal law enforcement officials emphasized that additional federal leadership could have a tremendous impact on public safety—as could greater federal use of the tools and principles of data-driven management that are proving so effective at the local level. The officials strongly endorsed a concerted, long-term effort to strengthen data-driven management in federal law enforcement agencies and to use mapping, other analytic tools, and more timely data to support the strategic and coordinated deployment of federal law enforcement resources.

As one example, supporting the initiative to strengthen the role of the U.S. Attorney and the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Special Agents in Charge in combating gun violence with information about best practices, mapping and other tools could enhance its impact. Although federal prosecutions represent only 5 percent of all prosecutions in the nation, they are usually aimed at the most serious offenders and thus can have an impact well beyond the mere number of defendants and arrests. Federal prosecutors have been able to demonstrate in Boston, Richmond, and Minneapolis that they can work in support of local authorities and have a measurable impact on gun violence—using good information to help identify worthy targets and then using appropriate federal laws to arrest the suspects.

As part of its charge, the Task Force was asked to review performance measures currently being used by federal law enforcement agencies. The Task Force convened a group of federal, state, and local officials to look at ways to make a closer link between law enforcement performance measures and desired outcomes. The group made the following observations:

  1. It is possible for the federal government—through its leadership, programs, and activities and working in partnership with states and localities—to have a significant impact on public safety. Although federal law enforcement represents only a small proportion of the total law enforcement capacity of the country, participants agreed that there are a number of ways the federal government can help states and localities. To achieve significant results, however, federal agencies need to work in partnership with each other and with state and local agencies.

  2. Current performance measures of federal law enforcement agencies emphasize measures of activity such as arrests and case counts rather than effectiveness. Because of the Government Performance and Results Act, federal agencies, especially regulatory agencies, are grappling with similar challenges, and many are developing innovative approaches to linking their performance measures to outcomes. The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, is experimenting with ways to give "extra credit" to cases that have positive environmental benefits, thus linking case work to environmental outcomes. The Internal Revenue Service has developed a set of balanced measures that give equal weight to business results, including accuracy of returns, customer satisfaction, and employee satisfaction.

  3. In most cases, the data needed to measure performance of federal law enforcement agencies are not yet adequate or timely. As the Office of National Drug Control Policy found in working with the 50 federal agencies involved in federal drug efforts, "the most critical challenge pertains to the lack of data." There is an urgent need for real-time data that are readily available in consistent formats to all federal law enforcement agencies. Information on crime, availability of detention and jail space, demographic and socioeconomic trend data, and intelligence data related to drug seizures and the apprehension of illegal aliens are a few of the many data elements that could be quite useful to federal agencies if they were available on a timely basis and in a standard unit of analysis. For example, Uniform Crime Report data at the county level are extremely helpful to federal law enforcement agencies. However, county level data are not available in a usable form for almost two years after the issuance of the annual report.



Within the federal law enforcement community is a growing recognition of the profound effects the tools that are transforming local law enforcement could potentially have on federal systems. In 1998, for example, the Department of Justice developed a pilot geographic information-based system to map the location of its law enforcement personnel across the nation alongside population and crime rates in order to make better—that is, more data-driven—decisions about how its personnel are allocated. As a result, the Department found that, historically, base resources—which generally comprise about 95 to 97 percent of total resources—are static within programs and among field programs. The maps the Department has produced are a useful tool in promoting more systematic sharing of information across components and in making more informed decisions about the allocation of law enforcement personnel.

The federal law enforcement community can—and should—be both a user of, and an advocate for, new tools and technologies. To this end, the Crime Mapping Research Center—notably through its annual conference—and other federal programs are playing an important role in documenting best practices, developing new applications, and carrying out research on effective uses of new technologies.


  • Continue an active crime mapping research program to explore other criminal justice areas that would benefit from enhanced mapping and analysis capabilities; encourage research and applications for federal law enforcement agencies; and foster linkages between academic institutions and law enforcement practitioners.

  • In the near term, explore the application of mapping technologies by the corrections community. Build on the August 1999 corrections mapping roundtable to be sponsored by the National Institute of Justice.

  • Encourage federal law enforcement agencies and federally supported programs to use integrated geographic information systems and data-driven management to strengthen their effectiveness. For example, expand the use of tactical maps provided by the National Guard to support operations in High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas.

  • Enhance the strategic capacity of the offices of the U.S. Attorneys by developing mapping tools that support them; by providing them with more timely and useful data; and by recognizing their efforts to partner with federal, state, and local law enforcement officials to achieve public safety goals.

  • Map the location of federal law enforcement personnel resources and use data on need and potential impact in strategic resource allocation.


Getting the performance measures for federal law enforcement right is difficult, but the risks of getting them wrong are serious. The Attorney General has been emphatic that "Department of Justice personnel must never be influenced by 'bounty hunting'—striving to reach a targeted goal or activity level for its own sake without regard to the activity's larger purpose.'' The challenge for federal law enforcement is to link its performance measures to its larger purpose: "providing federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime and ensuring fair and impartial justice for all Americans."

Increasingly, law enforcement officials are looking for ways to link such traditional measures of productivity as numbers of arrests and prosecutions to their intended goals. They are looking for performance measures that encourage a greater focus on the ultimate outcomes, cooperation across agency lines, and both prevention and enforcement actions to achieve results.


  • Establish a Federal Law Enforcement Performance Measurement Working Group that will:

    1. recommend changes so that all federal law enforcement agencies use balanced measures to assess agency performance;

    2. encourage pilot projects and research that better link performance measures to public safety and other outcomes;

    3. develop more timely, usable data sources, which may include improving the availability and timeliness of Uniform Crime Report crime data at the county level;

    4. identify the common data elements most federal law enforcement agencies need for effective data-driven management;

    5. develop an action plan to collect, analyze, and use the needed data, which could be included in the Attorney General's Management Initiatives Tracking report; and

    6. assess the feasibility of a law enforcement data warehouse to serve the needs of federal law enforcement agencies.


Although some federal agencies have had success with mapping applications and data-driven management—notably in gun tracing at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and in combating drug trafficking at the Office of National Drug Control Policy—training courses for federal law enforcement do not reflect these trends. Even as training opportunities for local law enforcement officials are expanded, federal law enforcement officials should also be trained in the fundamentals of crime mapping and analysis and data-driven management. Task Force members from the National Institute of Justice have met with representatives of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center to identify cost-effective ways of providing training in crime mapping and data-driven management to federal law enforcement officials.


  • Working with the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, develop courses in the fundamentals of crime mapping and data-driven management for federal law enforcement officials.

Mapping Out Crime Table of Contents

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