It happens all the time.
Tamara Otley will tell someone her job title — Crime Analyst at the Fullerton Police Department — and almost always, the person will say, “Oh, CSI!”
“Sometimes I don’t bother to correct them,” she says with a laugh.
What Otley does is as critical to the FPD as the work of her colleagues in crime scene investigation — the “CSI” work that long has been glamorized in TV shows and movies.
With a tap or two on her keyboard, Otley can summon up reams of crime data that helps police officers do their jobs better.
She’s a one-woman storehouse of information on the types and frequency of crimes occurring throughout Fullerton — the person who can tell you how many catalytic converters have been stolen from cars in the last few months, and when and from where.
Or what homes are being burglarized.
Or where drunk drivers are getting popped.
For decades, cops have been putting pins and dots on maps to get a better handle on crime trends in their jurisdictions, but since the birth of crime analysis some 30 years ago, Otley’s field has become invaluable to police agencies like Fullerton that put a strong emphasis on intelligence and community-led policing.
Now, most police agencies with at least 50 sworn officers have a full-time crime analyst on staff.
From her long and narrow cubicle in the Investigations Division, on the second floor of the FPD, Otley can quickly discern trends and patterns in, say, car break-ins, prompting agency brass to divert more resources to attack the problem.
And the crime bulletins Otley produces — a big part of her job — are sent out internally and to surrounding law enforcement agencies to alert cops throughout the region to crimes in Fullerton. Many cases have been solved or connected based on crime bulletins.
“What she does is very important, especially when it comes to property crimes,” said Otley’s boss, Sgt. Mike Hines. “She digs and digs and digs, and the information she produces is critical in helping us keep Fullerton as safe as possible.”
Otley fell into the profession nearly 13 years ago and now is an internationally known leader in crime analysis, having served as treasurer of the International Association of Crime Analysts for five years through January 2015. The association has approximately 3,000 members worldwide.
It’s been quite a career path for the girl from Ohio who, along with her parents and older sister, spent most of her youth in Africa, after living in Belgium for a year to become fluent in French.
Otley spent her 3rd through 9th grades in a boarding school in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo — adding Swahili to her list of spoken languages — and attended high school in a boarding school in Kenya.
After high school, Otley spent some time in the Chicago area and moved to California when her sister got married and moved here. Otley soon got married, too. She and her husband, Jeff, have two adult children.
At one time, Otley had aspirations to become a physical therapist but ended up, for several years, working from home in order to raise her children. Her home business involved data-related computer work such as producing mailing lists, creating and distributing flyers for real estate agents, as well as managing companies’ finances.
Taking a tour of the Norwalk station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department with her mother changed everything.
“We were introduced to the crime analysis manager, and as she described what crime analysts did, my mom and I looked at each other and we just knew this would be the perfect job for me,” Otley recalled.
Because of that station tour, Otley researched what was needed to become a crime analyst and soon after earned a certification in crime and intelligence analysis from Cal State Fullerton. This new career would marry Otley’s love for law enforcement (her grandfather was a cop) with her passion for legal thrillers and her talent for data analysis.
After serving as a crime analysis intern for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Bomb Squad, she worked as the crime analyst for the Brea PD.
Since 2008, Otley has been a crime analyst for the Fullerton PD and is a big reason why the agency is considered a leader in the art and science of applying analytical techniques — crime mapping, data and intelligence analysis, etc. — to law enforcement questions and problems.
As a crime analyst, Otley’s job is to try to answer the question, “Who is doing what to whom?” For example, from March to April in Fullerton, residential burglary was down 10.71%, commercial burglary — while up 25% (three crimes) — was down 30.85% year to date. And vehicle burglary fell 23.64%.
For the Fullerton PD, Otley designed an intranet-based system called 24Seven that displays crime bulletins, the previous seven day’s calls for service, and reference material for officers, in addition to lists and maps of sex offenders, parolees and people with outstanding warrants who are living in Fullerton.
So impressive is 24Seven that other law enforcement agencies have requested the 24Seven programming to implement a similar system at their departments.
Otley constantly is busy during her normal work hours, but she gets a little help from a part-time intern who is studying crime analysis at CSF, as well as help from a retired senior volunteer (RSVP).
On a recent afternoon, a sergeant walked into Otley’s cubicle. He dropped off a request for statistics in reference to a California Public Records Act request. Otley was alone – her eyes glued to one of three computer monitors on her desk.
Near one of the screens is a small mirror — for Otley to touch up her makeup, perhaps?
“I like to see who’s coming up to me from behind,” she said.
One can say Otley holds a mirror up to Fullerton and gives to her superiors the clearest picture of what’s happening, crime wise, in the city.
“We at the Fullerton PD pride ourselves on being on the cutting edge,” Otley said. “I feel my job is making a difference.”