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Statistics: Reporting Systems and Methods - Applications Of Official Data

information hits program law

A number of computerized information and data management systems have been created to facilitate both the apprehension of offenders and research on crime. They are typically local or regional efforts, providing law enforcement agencies in particular the capacity to store, manage, and utilize individual-level, comprehensive record information on case characteristics, offenders, victims, tips, crime locations, and so on. The goal, in increasing the quantity and quality of information available to law enforcement agencies, is to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the criminal justice system. One example of this type of data system is the Homicide Investigation and Tracking System (HITS).

The HITS program was originally funded under a National Institute of Justice (NIJ) grant that sought to examine homicides and their investigations within Washington State (Keppel and Weis). A computerized information system, which included all homicides in the state from 1980 forward, was created to facilitate the examination of solvability factors in homicide investigations, as well as to provide a comprehensive, ongoing database to be used by investigators to inform and enhance their case investigations. This was accomplished by having law enforcement officers fill out a standardized case form, which contains hundreds of pieces of information, on the victim(s), offender(s), locations, time line, motives, cause of death, autopsy results, evidence, and so on. In effect, a digitized version of the most relevant features of a case file were input to the database.

The HITS program contains information from six major sources and is stored in seven different data files: murder, sexual assault, preliminary information, Department of Corrections, gang-related crimes, Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, and timeline. These data files can then be queried by the investigator for a wide range of information, such as victims' gender, race, and lifestyle; date and cause of death; location of body; and other similar characteristics. This allows investigators to make their search as wide or narrow as the case demands, in order to improve their ability to focus on an offender.

HITS also provides an excellent source of information for researchers. The HITS program provides initial official reports of crimes that are generated in close temporal proximity to the crime. Also, because the HITS program maintains separate databases of information provided by public sources (e.g., licensing, corrections, motor vehicles), researchers can link separate sources of information on the same case, improving the analysis of the crime. The query system also allows researchers to create aggregate data sets, adjusting for a range of variables such as time of year or day, location within state, mobility of offenders, and so on. The HITS system, and others like it, then, not only improve the ability of law enforcement to solve crimes but also the ability of researchers to analyze them.

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