Four years ago Susannah Yong was a veteran dispatcher for the Forest Park police department who decided she wanted to change careers. Intrigued by a conversation she’d had with a crime analyst, Yong asked the village to send her to a week-long crime analysis class in Springfield conducted by the Alpha Group Crime and Intelligence Analysis Center.

Yong loved it, and now, four years later the Oak Park police department is loving what Yong is bringing to their law enforcement efforts. As Oak Park’s crime analyst, Yong is responsible for making sense of the daunting flow of criminal incidents with which the department must deal. Her job entails not only discerning crime patterns in terms of category, but identifying patterns related to the time and place that those crimes occurred, and other circumstances that will help her predict future instances of crime.

Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley had heard about Yong’s work for Forest Park, but it wasn’t until Oak Park experienced a series of armed robberies in 2002 that he asked Forest Park for permission to use Yong’s skills. Tanksley took Yong’s findings, directed additional resources to a specific area, and… Bingo.

“Sure enough, she predicted when our guy would strike again,” said Tanksley, whose cops were close by when it happened.

That success convinced Tanksley of the value of systematic crime analysis. Unfortunately for Yong-and fortunately for Oak Park-budget considerations caused Forest Park to terminate Yong’s position in the fall of 2003. Tanksley eventually arranged to bring Yong into his department as a part-time, contract worker in August, 2004. She quickly showed her value to the force, and this past June became a full-time, salaried employee.

Yong said that a key task she spends much of her time on, Tactical Analysis, has the biggest effect on crime. In order to give street cops useful intelligence about crime patterns, Yong first identifies what’s termed a “series.” That entails looking closely at a group of crimes such as burglary, and discerning similarities between them, as well as dissimilarities. Such facts as proximity, suspect and victim descriptions, the time of week and type of day (weather, etc) are considered.

“I read the reports, and I look for similarities in the offenders, victims, where it happened, the time frame, what they’re taking,” she said.

Such analysis helps discern connections that might not otherwise be apparent. For example, crimes such as Criminal Damage to Property may in fact be failed burglary attempts, and may help pinpoint how and where a certain offender is operating. It’s news cops on the street can use.

“When I give that information to patrol officers, they can immediately work with that,” she said.

The entire department is fast becoming aware of what Yong has to offer.

“It was a gradual thing,” she said of her acceptance by rank and file officers. “They saw that it was beneficial to what they’re doing.” Any lingering doubts about those benefits evaporated last month, when Sgt. Joseph Moran, a 13 year veteran of the force and a patrol supervisor, formally commended Yong for her assistance in capturing a garage burglar.

In late August someone began burglarizing garages in “Post 13” in a very specific manner. Based on reports of three garage burglaries, as well as several criminal damage to property incidents deemed to be burglary attempts, Yong created a report indicating where and when the next burglary would occur, as well as describing the physical characteristics of the garages the offender liked to hit, and even the items he liked to steal.Yong pinpointed a three block by two block area, and gave a time frame between 8:30 p.m. and 3:30 a.m. There was, she predicted, a 95 percent chance of another burglary there between Sept. 2 and 10.

Yong was a bit off time-wise, but hit the bull’s eye in terms of place. On Sept. 10 around 6 p.m., police arrested a 14 year old who admitted that he’d burglarized a number of garages in the area.

“Susannah’s bulletins put us in the middle of where crime is happening,” said an appreciative Moran.

Deputy Chief Bob Scianna was part of Oak Park’s very first crime analysis team put together by then Chief William Kohnke in 1976. Along the way Scianna’s seen crime analysis evolve from actual maps with colored pins stuck in them and reports cobbled together from stacks of paper files, then hammered out on typewriters, to a modern discipline that utilizes computer programs based on logarithms that can crunch numbers and spit out color coded “pin maps” a thousand times faster than the smartest human.

Still, information must still be digested and incorporated by police officers who know their patrol territory and can make sense of what analysts like Yong gives them. Indeed, the intent of modern crime analysis, Scianna said, is to enhance, not replace, the role of patrol and tactical officers. The best end result of good analysis is “data clusters,” incident groupings that indicate crime hot spots that cops can focus on. No computer will ever replace aggressive, savvy cops on the street, said Scianna, will never chase down a bad guy and put hand cuffs on him.

Still, the veteran cops like Moran say they appreciate the assistance.

“It greatly increases our chances of being successful,” he said of Yong’s efforts.

The Commission on Law Enforcement Accreditaion, or CALEA, the organization that accredits police departments throughout the United States, certainly values the contributions of crime analysis. So highly, in fact, that it has made it a requirement of certification, along with 14 major categories that are thoroughly assessed in a two to three year vetting process that usually involves significant upgrades to physical plant, training, procedures and staffing by applicants. The Oak Park force, which is currently applying for such elite certification, has satisfied a key part of that CALEA requirement.

Not that Yong is resting on her laurels. Her future, she said, will include more classes to help her broaden her skill base. Such classes as Geographical Information Science and Crime Mapping.

“There’s so much information out there I’d like to learn,” she said.

And too, so many bad guys still to help catch.

This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Susannah Yong’s name.

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