Focusing on places rather than people helped Atlantic City’s violent crime drop nearly 36 percent last year, according to police.
Risk Terrain Modeling was developed by Rutgers Professor Joel Caplan, who saw data that showed where crime was happening but didn’t seem to look deeper.
“The common way that crime is analyzed and used for police operations is by focusing on past crime events and where crime clusters,” Caplan said. “That tells you the where but doesn’t tell you the why.”
RTM tracks crime trends, then looks at the places it clusters to see what about that landscape attracts crime.
“It put the focus on a place rather than a person or the people,” said Capt. James Sarkos. “What is it about that particular area that makes it more attractive to crime.”
It could be something as simple as lighting. Maybe an abandoned home nearby that gives criminals a place to hide.
“Sometimes it’s not just one characteristic, but the intersection of these various characteristics,” he added.
The RTM also lets police see patterns emerge so they can predict future crime trends.
And it allowed the city to know where to spend its limited budget, from prioritizing which abandoned properties needed to be taken down or which areas needed lighting replaced first.
For Atlantic City, the focus was on violent and property crimes, specifically shootings, aggravated assaults, robberies and burglaries.
ACTION meetings — Assessment, Connections, Tasks, Interventions, Outcomes and Notifications — involved stakeholders so that the community was part of the solution.
The initiative went into practice in February 2017, and quickly saw a decrease for the first part of the year.
That decrease expanded by year’s end.
A system crash that forced the department to switch to its new records management system in the summer of 2016 caused them to lose data from June and July for comparison.
But, in comparing the 10 remaining months in 2016 to the same 10 months in 2017, overall violence crime was reduced from 270 incidents to 174.
Homicides and shootings that caused injury decrease by more than a quarter, from 39 to 29.
The biggest reduction was in burglaries that went from 231 in 2016 to 145 last year, a more than 37 percent drop.
RTM was just part of what contributed, Sarkos said.
“I think you have to give credit to a host of initiatives that we’ve done,” he said.
Community outreach initiatives have increased the public’s trust, tip411 allows anonymous tips to be texted in and the surveillance center puts extra eyes on the streets.
“And I can’t give enough credit to the dedication of the men and women of the Atlantic City Police Department,” Sarkos added. “You could have the best technology in the world. If you don’t have dedicated and committed and passionate officers, you’re not going to be successful, and we’re very fortunate to have that.”