Program helps track crime trends

When Rock Hill police noticed a sharp surge in vehicle break-ins around the Rock Hill Galleria a couple years ago, they decided to go on the offensive.

Through a statistical analysis, police learned that almost 16 percent of city car break-ins happened in the Manchester Village and Rock Hill Galleria areas.

They implemented CompStat -- a philosophy based on communication and strategizing over ways to reduce crime -- to target such crime hot spots.

At the Galleria, police met with general manager Jeff Kirby. They added patrols and got word out to citizens through fliers, a CN2 cable commercial and a handout in city utility bills. The multi-pronged attack worked, with break-ins down 22 percent in a year.

"I believe the police put a stop to something that could've become a severe issue in the future," Kirby said. "I'm sure it's cut down on other types of crime as well."

Police crime analyst Damien Williams said police also had success using the process to combat crime at the Executive Inn off Anderson Road.

Police met with the motel's owner to discuss the rise in violent crime and drug-related activities. Both sides worked in tandem -- the owner communicating with police about who was renting rooms and police patrolling and checking out leads. The owner also made property repairs. Violent crime there fell by 74 percent, and property crimes dropped by almost 25 percent.

"An important part of these successes is cooperation with business owners," Williams said. "We can only do so much on our end with prevention."

Police say CompStat has been used to combat other crimes. Convenience store and gas station robberies are down since 2006, police said, as are vehicle break-ins at the Patriot Parkway apartments.

Williams said CompStat isn't a "magical computer system," but a management and organizational philosophy. Police across the country have used CompStat to reduce crime and increase police accountability.

The idea originated in New York City during the early 1990s. It works with four main principles: accurate and timely intelligence, rapid deployment, tactics and strategies and assessment.

Rock Hill Police Chief John Gregory began the program in January 2007 and held weekly strategic discussions. The department now meets every other Thursday. Community members have given feedback, too.

"CompStat is important because it emphasizes internal communications and also incorporates citizens," Williams said. "We want an open-air environment so everyone knows what's going on."

Often the strategies formed through the program are based on statistics -- from dispatch calls to information recorded at a crime scene.

Mike Smith, chair of the University of South Carolina's criminology department, teaches the process in a graduate program for police managers.

Smith said CompStat's value is that it helps reveal specific crime trends. Although it has been used for almost 15 years, Smith is unsure if it has been proven successful.

He said New York City saw a sharp drop in felonies and murders in a year with CompStat, but there are too many factors to pinpoint the reason.

"CompStat has become the strategy du jour for police departments across the country," Smith said. "As for its impact on crime, I think that's the $64,000 question. It's very difficult from a methodical standpoint to analyze CompStat and say whether it works or it doesn't work."

As the process moves forward in Rock Hill, Williams sees room for growth. One goal is closer communication and strategizing with other agencies, such as Winthrop University police, York Technical College security and the York County Sheriff's Office.

"We need to work more with other departments and agencies," Williams said. "If someone is having a crime trend, we need to know about it."