St. Johns detectives predict crime, catch burglars

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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - It's police work you'd expect to see in the Central Intelligence Agency or the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but now local agencies are adopting incident-mapping technology and using it as a crime-fighting tool.

The concept is simple: detectives compile all the crime reports in their area and try to predict where the criminals will strike next.

Members of the St Johns County Sheriff's Office's Intelligence-Led Policing Unit work behind-the-scenes looking at crime reports, analyzing that information and searching for trends.

"This unit looks at every report that comes in every morning," said Corporal Vinnie Russo, who oversees the unit.

Detectives plot the crimes on maps, they look for connections and links between them and try to predict where the criminals will strike next.

"It's almost common sense if we think about it," said Russo. "If you have a whole lot of Crime in a certain area, yeah you're going to want to put more manpower in that area."

"Generally what we're going to look at his hotspots of crime and present this information to the district commanders so they can take the resources and move them to that general area where there's the main activity," said Detective Justin Anderson, a member of the unit.

The unit is only a couple years old, but it's had great success already. Months ago, deputies were investigating a string of car break-ins. They enlisted the help of the Intelligence-Led Policing Unit and predicted where the crooks would hit next. Deputies said crime throughout the county is estimated to have dropped by 8 percent so far this year. They credit the unit for helping produce the results.

Detectives went into surveillance-mode and sure enough turned up three young teens whom they said were behind the spree. 

The information isn't just kept within the department. Many times, with help from media relations deputies, like Sergeant Catherine Payne, the agency shares it.

"All that information is coming into central location and they're pushing that information back out to not only our agency but other agencies in Florida," said Payne.

Their predictions aren't always right.

"I would say were probably right believe it or not it may not sound like a big number about 15 to 20 percent of the time," said Russo.

The maps sometimes don't lead deputies to the criminals, but the methods are becoming more and more successful. Advocates say intelligence-led policing is another weapon in a crime fighting arsenal, that a growing number of agencies are making a priority, to keep crime out of your neighborhood. They also keep close contact with federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, to prevent terrorism.

Corporal Russo was recently honored as the St. Johns County deputy of the year for his efforts with the unit, among other work.

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