Geographical profiler fights crime with data
Using sophisticated geographical profiling software, Jacqueline Zee, a 2002 criminal justice graduate, helped police solve a serial bank-robbing case.
A robber was knocking off banks in Arlington, Austin and Houston. Police knew the criminal would strike again. But where? When?
They needed an expert, someone adept at predicting a time and place for the next offense. Not a psychic like the Patricia Arquette character on NBC’s Medium, but a geographical profiler.
They needed Jacqueline Zee.
The 2002 UT Arlington criminal justice graduate began by analyzing the time each robbery occurred and the distance between crime scenes. Using sophisticated software, she forecast times, places and dates of the next strike.
It worked. Police solved the case.
TV series such as Criminal Minds and CSI have familiarized viewers with psychological profiling and forensic investigation. Zee says people frequently confuse her work with this type of analysis, but what she does more closely mirrors the show Numbers.
“A lot of people think what I do is like CSI,” said the 22-year-old geographic crime analyst for the Arlington Police Department. “It’s not forensics; I don’t deal with physical evidence from violent crimes such as homicides.”
What she deals with are serial crimes like burglaries. Zee stays behind the scenes, crunching data. Large police departments like Arlington’s divide the city into districts; Zee researches the crime history of her district, studying patterns, anomalies and other details crucial to preventing offenses.
Geographical profiling started several years ago through the work of Kim Rossmo, a Canadian Mounty police officer. As the field gained credibility, Dr. Rossmo began training law enforcement agents on how to implement the software systems to predict and prevent crime.
Zee and the city’s crime analysis supervisor, Roy Haskins, attended the training about a year ago. The Arlington Police Department’s crime analyst personnel total five, but Zee is the only one with geographical profiling training and certification.
“Geographical profiling is an essential function of any crime analyst unit,” Haskins said. “It’s important in solving crimes that involve serial incidents, offenses connected with the same author.”
Haskins likens geographical profiling to a pulsating lawn sprinkler.
“Imagine it going around, and as the droplets of water land they can be tracked to pinpoint the source with great accuracy. We apply that concept to serial crimes to determine where the author bases the activity from.”
Geographical profiling is a growing trend, but fewer than 25 Texas police departments currently employ the tactic.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that Zee is at the forefront of this emerging science. She became interested in crime analysis as a teenager. She graduated from high school at 14, entered junior college the same year and transferred to UT Arlington at 16.
As an undergraduate, she interned with the U.S. Customs Service and the North Texas Drug Trafficking Area (NT-HIDTA). She was treasurer for Alpha Phi Sigma national criminal justice honor society and president of the Criminal Justice Student Organization.
After earning her degree, she worked for the North Central Texas Council of Governments using the geographic information systems software to study alternative transportation. Her research involved developing travel demand forecasts for North Texas and analyzing commuter travel data.
When a crime analyst job opened with the APD, she applied.
Zee also performs research as a doctoral student at UT Dallas studying public affairs and plans to finish her degree by 2008. But examining crime data is what she thrives on.
She had one experience, as an undergraduate, analyzing violent crime for a criminal justice competition. Using geographic profiling software, she looked at murders committed by the infamous Jack the Ripper. Her data included a map displaying where and when each murder occurred.
She presented the project at a national conference in Washington, D.C., and won first place—at age 17. Still, tracking violent crime does not interest her.
“I don’t see myself ever strapping on a gun and running after criminals,” she said. “I really like being a computer geek—you know, analyzing data.”
Indeed she does, with great results.
— Kim Pewitt-Jones