Informational Asymmetries in my role as Crime Analyst

One aspect I’ve come to realize in my job as crime analyst, and really in any technical job I’ve had, is that I face large informational asymmetries between myself and my employers (and colleagues). What exactly do I mean? Well, I consider a prime example of informational asymmetry when I have a large body of knowledge about some particular topic or task I need to conduct, and the person asking for the task has relatively little.

I believe this is problematic in one major way with my job: That people don’t know what is or is not reasonable to ask me to do, or similarly how long it takes me to conduct particular tasks. I believe most of the time this makes people hesitate to ask me particular questions or ask me to conduct particular analysis. The obverse happens though not entirely infrequently, I get asked nonchalantly to do something that is a considerable investment.

I’m not sure how to best solve this situation (especially the not asking part) besides by developing relationships with colleagues and the boss, and through experience elucidating what I can (or can’t do). To a certain extent I can’t know what people want if they don’t ask me.

The situation in which someone asks me to do something that takes more of in investment is easier, in that I can directly tell the person that this request is either unreasonable or will take along time. A good example of tasks that on the outside may look similar in scope, but are largely different are descriptive vs. causal analysis.

Examples of the difference are “How many calls for service occurred at this particular apartment in the last year?” (descriptive), or “Is there more crime around 15 Main St. than we would normally expect?” (causal). The first is typically just a query or the database and a table or map, and this will typically satisfy the answer. The other though is much more difficult, I have to dream up a reasonable comparison, else the information I provide may be potentially out of context.

The information I produce also depends on who is asking. If someone within the PD asks for descriptive statistics, that is usually all I provide. If someone from the public asks for descriptive statistics, I frequently (at least attempt to) provide more context for those statistics (i.e. some reasonable comparisons or historical trends that form the basis for causal analysis).

This is because I assume people within the PD have the necessary external context to evaluate the information, whereas people outside the PD don’t. If I just stated how many calls for service occurred on your street block, you may think your street is crime ridden, because you don’t have a good internal baseline to judge what is a reasonable number of calls for service. In such requests to the public I try to provide historical numbers over a long period (as people are often worried about newer trends) or comparisons to neighboring areas.

The informational asymmetry problem stills persists though, and filters into other areas of work. In particular how am I evaluated within the PD itself.

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