Policing by the numbers

Crime analyses create efficiency in City and Town

Joel Lehman

By Joel Lehman

Managing Editor

The Facts

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ST. ALBANS — Law enforcement officers and community members are having conversations about crime statistics. The aim: increased police efficiency in St. Albans City and Town.

Since October, the St. Albans Police Department (SAPD), city and town administrators and representatives from a handful of local agencies have met monthly to examine data and exchange ideas based on patterns they have identified in the numbers.

Diverse points of view have arisen at the table.

The program, called Comp-Stat, which stands for ‘Computer Comparison Statistics,’ allows police to coordinate efforts more efficiently, and community members can identify problems that range from recurring drug use and arson patterns to zoning compliance.

“We want to make sure we’re not spinning our wheels and going in different directions,” St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor said at a Comp-Stat meeting held recently in St. Albans City.

Also in attendance at the most recent meeting are state’s attorney Jim Hughes, Nina Curtiss of the Franklin Grand Isle Restorative Justice Center, Jon Centabar of the Department of Liquor Control, Cpt. Matt Mulheron of St. Albans Fire Dept., representatives from Northwestern Counseling & Support Services and several City administrators, totaling about 16 people.

Led by Lt. Ron Hoague, police officers and detectives talk about very specific cases — arrest warrants for a suspected criminal in the city, an arson case in town, a liquor violation in the city, among the discussion topics.

“The concept is fantastic,” Curtiss said. “We’re hoping to bring people from different agencies to really look at the city as a whole to figure out how to solve these problems.”

The Comp-Stat model is used by agencies large and small in communities all over the world, Taylor wrote in overview statement about the program. Data has long been used by police to solve problems. By bringing in as many parties and perspectives from the community as possible, the data can be applied practically.

Frequently, local agencies find an overlap in crimes, Taylor said. And with so many different points of view, there’s more creativity or, at least, coordination to find a resolution.

“I’m happy to be sitting at the table with these people. It speaks to the community that we have so many people who care about the community and care about making positive change,” Curtiss said.

Chip Sawyer, St. Albans City director of planning and development, also was present at a recent meeting. He said that police are the eyes-on-the-ground in St. Albans. If there’s anything to share about permitting violations or issues with individuals concerning property, they’re his best resource.

“There’s rarely a very simple solution,” Sawyer said. “We want to make sure that if there’s something we can do to help out, we’re doing it in a coordinated way. Solving the city’s problems is what we’re there for.”

“It’s still in its infancy,” said Marty Manahan, city director of operations and business development, another meeting attendee. “Seeing that information makes people more aware of what’s going on and they’re more apt to respond.”

At each meeting, an overview of criminal activity in four zones in St. Albans City and Town are examined. Patrol sergeants are assigned to each zone and then report patterns at the meeting including traffic stops, animal problems, retail theft and drug use.

A focused plan saves money, time and resources, Taylor said. Meeting discussions often focus on individuals, for example an NCSS client who is also facing criminal charges.

And with that greater efficiency comes better transparency and accountability from law enforcement agencies in the community.