Vol. 80, No. 2Ask an expert

Woman pointing at map.

Pinpointing patterns

Analyst links crimes to crack cases

RCMP crime analyst Kim Audette helps investigators in Saskatchewan link crimes that are connected. Credit: Scott McGregor, RCMP

To the untrained eye, crimes can seem sporadic, following no rhyme or reason. It's RCMP crime analyst Kim Audette's job to make sense of it. In 2013 she helped establish Saskatchewan's first Crime Analysis Unit, a data-led team that analyzes crime trends, geographic patterns and human behaviour. Amelia Thatcher spoke to Audette to see how she links crimes to help crack cases.

What is crime analysis?

Crime analysis is about leveraging data and evidence to identify hotspots for crime. It's about being predictive in determining where crime is more likely to occur and where suspects are more likely to target. We use that knowledge to help front-line officers with resourcing — informing them where police should be deployed on any given shift.

How often do you look for patterns?

We monitor occurrences on a daily basis, especially for things like property crime. For example, we'll look at where the break and enters to businesses are happening, or where vehicles are being stolen. Was there a cluster of thefts in a specific neighbourhood? Depending on what we find, we determine what crime-prevention tactics would work best in specific areas.

What tactics do you use?

We do a lot of MO — or modus operandi — analysis, which looks at a criminal's habits and patterns. For example, how they enter a building, what sorts of things they steal, and whether it's a crime of opportunity or a specific target.

If there's a known suspect, we'll look up their history in intelligence databases. If there's no known suspect, we'll try to find one by doing detailed searches in PROS — the Police Reporting and Occurrence System that officers document crimes in. We'll also make connections with municipal partners and other detachments to see if they've had similar crimes in their areas or know a possible suspect.

Then we try to find like occurrences in the same area around the same dates and times. We'll make timelines and maps, look at a criminal's direction of travel and link crimes by evidence and by MO. We work pretty closely with investigators to add new info and pursue leads until we solve the case.

Are there any challenges?

Data integrity is one of the largest challenges. We are limited by what's been reported. If the information isn't there, we can't make linkages.

Another challenge is the geography of Saskatchewan. In the north, most of the offenders are known because the communities are smaller. In the south, we get a lot of travelling criminals who go along the major highways. Those cases are the most challenging because you don't have a suspect. It's hard to connect a crime that happened on the Alberta border to a crime that's near the Manitoba border — you wouldn't necessarily look at those and think they're linked, but it's only an eight-hour drive. Oftentimes, investigators don't look beyond their own detachment borders. That's my job.

Do you have an example of a case?

We recently had an instance where there were more than 200 break and enters across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It began with one detachment reaching out for help with repeat break and enters to a golf course. Then we found out the neighbouring detachment also had one. It just grew from there — I quickly linked about 40 other cases that fit the same MO.

Soon we were able to identify a suspect. Shortly after, we linked him to several vehicle thefts — he would use the stolen vehicles to get from place to place. We found receipts in one of his stolen trucks, so we determined he was staying in local motels when doing the break-ins. He lived off the proceeds of his crimes and would travel around the country golfing.

Eventually we obtained a warrant for his phone records, which helped us pinpoint his locations and match them to the location and time of the crimes. He was hard to locate because he was nomadic. It wasn't until he bought a vehicle and registered it in his name that we were able to catch him, arrest him and obtain a search warrant. He hadn't been on anyone's radar, but with good investigative work and analysis we were able to obtain a federal sentence.

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