- Associated Press - Saturday, September 7, 2019

JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) - When gunshots ring out in Jackson, behind each investigator who arrives to collect shell casings and interview witnesses is Intelligence Analyst Sarah Webb Jones.

Jones is likely poring over data on multiple computer screens. Behind her, a white board may be covered in visual maps connecting incidents, locations, suspects and weapons. Sticky notes line her monitors, and multicolored files containing information on Jackson’s criminals are stacked high on her desk and couch. Her right wrist bears a tattoo of scales and a simple word: justice.

It looks like the real-life version of a scene from “Criminal Minds,” a show Jones said she never watches because she finds it annoying - in a real police department, this work doesn’t happen at Hollywood speed. It takes hours and days spent painstakingly collecting pieces of a story, but that’s not a problem for Jones. She likes puzzles.

“I’ve always felt the need to put pieces together and to make the picture a whole so that we can understand what’s going on,” she said.

She’s been working for the Jackson Police Department since 2010, when she joined as an intern with a fresh degree in criminal justice from Middle Tennessee State University. In just under a decade, Jones honed her skills to fit the needs of the ever-evolving field. On any given day, information requests can come in from multiple officers, investigators and even neighboring law enforcement agencies.



Jones is the only intelligence analyst at the Jackson Police Department, and she’s good at it. In August, she was named Gang Analyst of the Year at an annual Tennessee Gang Investigators Conference. Her superiors laud her for her diligence and ability to dig up valuable intelligence among a sea of data.

“She’s a link in the chain that investigators or officers just wouldn’t have if she didn’t spend the time pulling information together,” Maj. Phillip Kemper said.

A day in the life of a crime analyst

Jones starts her work day with a Dr Pepper (she doesn’t drink coffee). She scans her email inbox, jail reports and active warrants to see what she missed while she was sleeping. She’s looking for active warrants on known gang members or drug dealers so she can notify JPD’s units.

What happens next is anyone’s guess - if it’s a smooth day, she’ll get caught up on building files or sorting through information. Or multiple people may walk through her office door asking for intelligence or help deciphering codes.

In the past, she focused on specific areas where crimes seemed to be concentrated, gathering the names of those who live in or frequent those neighborhoods to build a better picture of “who might be shooting at who.” Now, Jones focuses on the people who commit crimes, because their activities are rarely limited to just one area.

“Connecting the dots” between cases means collaborating with Memphis, Murfreesboro and Clarksville, among others. She works with analysts from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and agents for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the FBI.

On top of this, she often collaborates with law enforcement in smaller towns who may not have their own analysts.

In a recent case, officers collected matching shell casings from the scenes of nine separate incidents, but they couldn’t find the weapon. Jones dove into the case files. She found one suspect who gave police a false name and identified him using his field interview picture.

Poring over victim information, location data and social media, she found enough information for police to obtain a search warrant for the man’s property, and police found the gun. The National Integrated Ballistic Information Network program matched test-fired shell casings from the weapon to the casings from the shootings.

It’s cases like these that Jones finds most rewarding - she likes giving victims closure and knowing that they won’t be revictimized by the same offender.

“If I can save one person from being a victim of anything, whether it’s a shooting or it’s a burglary or anything, then I feel like I’ve done my job - for the day,” Jones said with a laugh. “Then it’s on to the next day.”

For the love of puzzles

Jones‘ job is fairly new to the world of law enforcement, according to Kemper. As the amount of data available to officers through databases and social media grew, investigators no longer had the time to comb through all the information themselves.

He estimates criminal intelligence analysts started to enter policing in the early to mid-2000s. JPD added its intelligence unit in 2010, hiring three analysts who did all of their work manually. This was a clunky process, though, and the department soon cut back to just one: Jones.

“Sarah came along at the perfect time,” he said.

Kemper said they hope to eventually employ three analysts again, one for each investigative division.

For her part, Jones didn’t see herself ending up in her current position, which was only in its early forms when she started college. She had decided that she wanted to go into law enforcement in eighth grade after the World Trade Center fell and she realized “that the world did have evil people in it.”

When she attended college, the expectation was that being in criminal justice meant being a police officer. Now, some colleges offer degrees in criminal analysis.

“I didn’t want to necessarily wear the badge, because I knew that to play to my strengths with the computer and digging and piecing the puzzle together, I needed to be in the background,” she said.

At the end of a long day, Jones goes home to her wife, who also works in law enforcement. They watch TV (mostly cartoons) and Jones works on a jigsaw puzzle. When she’s done, she’ll glue it together and add it to the 20 or 30 puzzles already scattered around her home, or maybe give it away as a gift.

She remembers her grandmother teaching her how to put the puzzle pieces together when she was small, telling her that each piece - and each person - has a reason for being here.

“Once you put all those puzzle pieces together, then you see the full picture,” Jones said. “You see the clear picture, and you start to understand why you’re here and why you do what you do.”

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Information from: The Jackson Sun, http://www.jacksonsun.com

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