Rocks and robbers

Robert Woodward

Photo By evan tuchinsky

It’s fitting that Robert Woodward makes maps for a living, because it takes a master cartographer to chart his life’s journey. A crime analyst for the Chico Police Department, he was born in Southern California and raised in Arizona, where he attended several colleges and got an undergraduate degree in geology. He got his master’s at USC, then became an exploration geologist for the oil company Arco, which sent him crisscrossing the globe: from Bakersfield to Alaska to Louisiana to Indonesia to Dallas to Tunisia. He moved to Chico in 1999 with his wife, Jennifer, and their children, Megan and Jeremy (both now in their 20s); “continuously speaking,” he said, “this is the longest we’ve lived anywhere.” Woodward, 56, joined the Chico police as a CSO (community service officer) in 2000, and since 2003 he’s been a crime analyst, collating data to look for patterns and mapping them out. He’s also a photographer whose work will be exhibited in City Hall this summer. He maintains an online portfolio at

How did you go from crags & rocks to crooks & cops?

I was exploration manager for Arco in Tunisia, and our office was closed. I’d had enough of the oil industry and decided to go where we wanted to live, not where the job dictated. I liked Chico best. We came here with no jobs, no house, two kids, a dog, two cats, a bunch of junk, and we just decided to stay. I went from menial job to menial job for about a year—my wife got a job right away—and eventually ended up as a CSO here at the Police Department. I became interested in the fact that at the time we weren’t doing any crime mapping as a department, and being a geologist, of course I was interested in maps.

When you were younger, were you interested in crime?

No, it was just one of those things that happened. I’ve always been interested in geology and the natural environment, but the thing with people and law enforcement never occurred to me. But I find it fascinating. It’s been a real eye-opener for me. It’s unbelievable the types of people cops have to deal with on a regular basis. I couldn’t be a cop; I don’t have the personality where I could take it.

What sort of analysis do you do?

I probably do more strategic crime analysis than anything, which is more of the big-picture kind of thing. But I do sometimes get involved with specific crimes, especially for crimes that are going to trial, such as a murder. If we know there are lots of players involved, we do a link analysis—looking at people and how they’re related to each other, whether they’re part of a gang or whether they’ve had conflicts before, and looking at a timeline. That’s one of the more exciting things I get to do.

Do you ever get out and do geological exploration in our area?

I do more now as a hobby because I’ve picked up photography again. I’ve done some close-up work of a formation in Upper Bidwell Park called Lovejoy basalt. I think it’s pretty cool here. I love Chico.