Gearing Up for a Career in Law Enforcement Analytics with a Master's Degree

Everyone knows that being a cop is a dangerous job, but law enforcement analysts want to get at the root of the how and the why. In Chicago, for example, in 2012, there were more than 900 incidents of battery of a police officer, and 72 assaults with a firearm.

Although cops understand that this is a part of the job, scientists and supervisors also know that force is part of a vicious cycle, one that not only harms cops but also their quarry, and occasionally innocent civilians. Working in dangerous areas can lead to incidents of mistaken identity, or perhaps even more common, mistaken intention.

Understanding exactly where those areas are and in what specific circumstances police officers are mostly likely to be physically threatened can help reduce the danger to everyone. A team of data scientists from Rutger’s University took the Chicago police data and ran it through a system they had devised called Risk Terrain Modeling (RTM)… a spatial analysis technique that identified the hotspots where the risk of assault was highest, and tying this information in with data on the types of calls most likely to be associated with threats to law enforcement.

Combining advanced quantitative analysis techniques available through data science with real-world crime and law enforcement problems is the province of law enforcement intelligence and analysis. Law enforcement intelligence and analysis attempts to understand the root and proximate causes of crime using data and analytic techniques for the purposes of preventing or solving criminal offenses.

And the best option for getting a job in that field today comes with getting a master’s degree in law enforcements analysis.

Big Data Revolutionizes Crime Prediction and Intelligence Analysis

Predictive policing is turning into big business for private sector analytics firms. Using statistical analysis of crime data to predict where future crime will likely occur, and how to deter it, is the headline news from the big data world for law enforcement professionals. RTM is just one approach being adopted by a variety of companies in cooperation with law enforcement agencies, including:

  • PredPol
  • QueBit
  • Motorola
  • IBM
  • GeoEye

But predictive policing is not the only role for intelligence analysts and it’s not just the private sector that is hungry for qualified analysts. Since 9/11, the government has been more focused than ever on sifting through massive data sets to forecast and prevent similar attacks around the world. Although the details of these efforts only rarely slip out, the information that has been revealed indicates massive reliance on statistical and inferential analysis of large data sets including:

  • Electronic mail traffic
  • Satellite observation
  • Cellular call and text transmissions

Although it should be obvious that both terrorist and criminal actors have certain patterns that they exhibit, like their methods of communication and where and when they strike, it’s far from obvious how to extrapolate those patterns from the ocean of data that society generates today. Because these actors don’t exactly draw attention to themselves in conventional ways, identifying them can be even more complicated.

Law enforcement intelligence analysts are trained to understand the motivations and psychology of those actors to figure out ways to sift that data for clues.

While the success rates against terrorist incidents are closely guarded secrets, police departments have not been slow to brag about the success they’ve had with intelligence analysis. In 2010, for example, the Memphis Police Department, using IBM’s BlueCRUSH software (Criminal Reduction Utilizing Statistical History) to reduce crime overall by more than 30 percent, including a 15 percent reduction in violent crimes.

A Master’s Degree Boosts Paychecks in a Field Not Known For High Salaries

Although money is rarely the overwhelming consideration for anyone considering a career in public service, it’s worth noting that a master’s degree is the minimum qualification required for a GS-9 position on the federal pay scale. That translates into a salary range, on the 2017 scale, of between $43,251 and $56,229… well-below the entry level of private sector data science positions, but still much better than the GS-7 range of $35,359 to $45,970 where bachelor’s qualified scientists start out.

Federal, state, or local law enforcement is not the only option in the intelligence analysis field, however, although it represents the greatest number and variety of positions. Defense contractors have been taking on more and more of the outsourced work of analysis recently.

Actual military or law enforcement experience is less critical, although still beneficial, in these positions.

There are also two different professional associations for analysts in these roles:

Both offer a certification process, but there are no advanced educational requirements. Neither organization is focused specifically on statistical analysis but both support analysts working in that field.

Finding the Right Master’s Program in Law Enforcement and Intelligence Analysis

Master’s degree programs in law enforcement and intelligence analysis tend to focus less on data science methods and techniques than on traditional criminal investigative theory and techniques. Programming, database administration, data modeling, and other traditional methods of data science are not commonly included in these programs… to the extent that type of work is required in intelligence analysis, you’ll be relying on more traditionally educated data scientists to provide it.

In terms of bringing together quantitative analysis with actionable intelligence and crime reduction, however, this type of program can’t be beat.

You might find these degrees listed as master’s of science in law enforcement and intelligence analysis, or simply as master’s of science in intelligence analysis. They often have a slightly different focus:

  • Law enforcement and intelligence analysis is concerned more with criminal detection and crime prevention uses of analytics.
  • Intelligence analysis is often more interested in geopolitical strategic intelligence or terrorist groups.

Programs should also cover:

  • Criminal profiling and behavior analysis
  • Intelligence gathering methods
  • Spatial analysis and mapping
  • Data mining
  • Quantitive and analytic thinking

You may also find traditional criminal justice programs that have a concentration in intelligence or crime analysis. These, however, are typically lighter on the technological and statistical methods employed by data scientists than the dedicated programs. They offer a more high-level view of policy and decision-making principles, while leaving out the mechanics of performing statistical analysis.

A Military Background Provides a Traditional Route into Intelligence Analysis

Although a master’s degree in intelligence analysis is a valuable credential, the overwhelming majority of people who work in law enforcement and intelligence analysis generally start out with military service and training in the field.

Going through the military route also provides a great option for getting your master’s education paid for by the government. It also has the downside of being far from guaranteed… you can put in for an intelligence position and not get it, or for training and be denied. And in either case, you’ll still owe the military several years of service.

In cases where you sign up and get the billet, however, that service is also a sort of training, and experience, that is utterly invaluable when applying for civilian or law enforcement positions after you get out.