For Evesham Township Police Chief Chris Chew, one initiative was to learn a newer operational model established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that seeks to reduce crime in specific portions of municipalities by using historical data to pinpoint when accidents or crimes are most likely to occur.
Called Data Driven Approach to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS), the initiative can be used for a variety of police prevention and enforcement methods. Some municipalities may use it purely for specific intersections with regard to traffic accidents, while others may attempt to address shoplifting and other crimes.
The Evesham department learned of the model in 2012 as they sought to address police concerns and deal with a decline in officers.
“We were losing officers during the economic downturn so we were trying to do more with less while also identifying where the highest rates of crashes and criminal activity are,” Chew explained.
“For our town specifically, there’s a direct connection between those incidents; so our highest rates of burglaries, shoplifting, drunk driving and more are all in the same area.”
After collecting data from the years 2007 to 2011, the department investigated what days of the week and at what times crimes were occurring within the approximately 2.1-square-mile target zone. Much of that zone focused on routes 70 and Route 73.
As expected, Chew said the department has experienced a significant decrease in accidents and other criminal activity since the operational model was first implemented.
“What we’ve noticed year to year, is that we are continuing to see reductions in those identified issues,” Chew noted. “We were essentially able to put police out there and predict when these violations or crimes were most likely to happen. So we were being proactive about it, which over time forced people to change their behaviors.”
With data from the 2019 year still under analysis, stats from previous years provide a glimpse into how effective the model has been. According to the department, Evesham police responded to 339 motor vehicle accidents in the DDACTS zone in 2016, followed by 268 in 2017 and 216 in 2018, far below the five-year average of 330 accidents for an entire year.
Each month, officers meet to discuss any potential changes within the DDACTS’ zone that would be worth implementing, as residents get accustomed to police presence in specific areas and not in others.
Having taught the operational model across the country due to his department’s success, Chew says one of the most important program elements is allowing the data to tell officers where to go.
“You want to analyze and review and then make potential changes based off the data,” Chew explained. “If the data sees a significant decrease, then you want to maintain that decrease within the community. At the same time, you can also use the data to identify other potential zones that arise elsewhere, which could be secondary zones.”
Having helped other municipalities and departments institute their own operational model, Chew said the program’s importance cannot be understated.
“Every town has their own specific calls that they want to identify and address,” he concluded. “However, I don’t care what town you work in in New Jersey, but traffic collisions are going to be a major issue everywhere. So if you can free some officers to do other things, that’s the whole goal. And there’s obviously a financial and safety incentive along with this as well.”