Thursday, April 25, 2013

Better bulletins

This post continues this week's series on some tips for a new crime analyst.

The crime bulletin is a bread-and-butter product for the crime analyst. We all create them. You know the drill: you're the only person at the PD who actually reads all the reports every day. During the process you find interesting intelligence, uncover links between cases, develop potential suspects, and find patterns and trends before they become well known. When these findings have a broad audience of interest in the department, you commit the information you've gleaned to print, perhaps supplemented with a graph, chart, map, or photo, then copy your publication to stuff into the mail cubbies.

What I want to do, however, is to build a better bulletin by following four steps. First, KISS.  Keep it simple, seriously. Bulletins should be short. Two pages is usually one too many. Three is way too many. There may be a place for an analytic report of greater length, but a crime bulletin ought to be something you could read while standing at the urinal. Fewer words and more white space makes for a better bulletin.  If you use graphs and charts, make sure they are easily understood. This is the Achilles heel of many crime analysis products that are just too obtuse. The acid test is to hand the graph to your teenage daughter and see if she can tell you what it means, without any knowledge of the subject matter whatsoever. You'll find hundreds of graphs and charts in my previous blog posts, and most will be mighty simple.

Second, create a brand. Find a logo you like. Make a masthead, a header, a footer, a text box with disclaimers, confidence and sensitivity level, distribution restrictions, your contact information, or whatever you wish to include, but avoid unnecessary and redundant clutter.  Create a template with these elements. Use that consistently on all your bulletins. You'll find lots of examples on the website of the International Association of Crime Analysts (IACA), which, by the way, you should definitely join. For $25 per year, it's well worth it for the listserv alone, which buzzes with tips and solutions.  IACA has great publications, training of all kinds, fabulous resources for members, a certification program if you are so inclined, a fine annual conference, and more.

Third, optimize your bulletins as electronic documents.  Think of your bulletins as more than a piece of paper and supplement the printed word with interactive content.  My blog is a good example.  Most posts contain several hyperlinks that provide more information or supplement the text. Publish your bulletins in Adobe Acrobat portable document format, the ubiquitous .pdf. The Adobe Acrobat reader is free and as near universal as you can get. When relevant, build hyperlinks into your bulletins. This is easy to do in word processing or desktop publishing software, and your officers will know what to do with the blue underlined text in an online .pdf.

Posibilities for links abound.  Tag your name in the footer as a link to your email address. Tag addresses in your bulletin to Google Maps or Bing Maps to that precise address, with or without StreetView or Bird's Eye View. To do so, open the map and navigate to the spot you want. You can turn StreetView on in Google if you wish, or Bird's Eye view in Bing.  Look for the link icon in Google, and the Share button in Bing, and copy the URL. Next, highlight the address text in your bulletin, and paste the URL as the hyperlink. The text will be a blue hyperlink, just like all the links in my blog. Does your bulletin contain an out-of-state license plate number? Find a photo of that State's plate on the web, copy the URL and turn that plate number blue! While your at it, highlight the vehicle type and link to a beauty shot of the particular make and model. Here's a tip: most free .pdf distillers will not preserve the hyperlinks when you convert the .doc to .pdf. The full version of Adobe Acrobat works, but CutePDF (my favorite freebie) does not. If you use "save as .pdf" in Microsoft Office 2010, the hyperlinks will be preserved. OpenOffice also preserves hyperlinks when the document is saved as a pdf, and it is free.

Fourth, create an online repository of crime bulletins. It should be a link on that Intranet page you built yesterday, with the bulletins themselves parked on the same server. There are several benefits. You will have a chronological archive for future reference ("Wasn't there a bulletin about something similar a few months ago?").  You will save a tree or two. You will be able to email the hyperlink to the bulletin, rather than choking the pipe with a large attachment going to several dozen addresses.  You will be able to search the archive. The search mechanism can be quite simple. When you create the HTML page listing the links to the bulletins, include a title and keywords. Then, a user can just use CTRL-F (that's Edit/Find from the browser's menu) to search for the keyword.  It might look something like this:

The Series:

Impromptu visit
Weekly slideshow
A place of your own
Better bulletins
Easy maps

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