Where Big Data is Big in Law Enforcement

Collaboration via solutions delivered by big data has grown from sounding futuristic to its current buzz across industries. Not surprisingly, it’s no less important in law enforcement than in business, healthcare or other industries. In law enforcement the question is how to harness the power of big data and what it can do to help fight crime.

Why isn’t Big Data a Bigger Deal Yet in Law Enforcement?

Big data has become a big deal in its realization in predictive data analytics for both crime fighting and efficiency-building in law enforcement. A Computer Weekly article explains that the reason that the industry struggles with big data is that it doesn’t actually realize that data is available, let alone relevant. Those who do, find that much of that data is “locked up in dozens of separate data silos.”

Law many agencies, accordingly “are not able to make sense of the wealth of data they hold and, in some instances, are not able to connect individuals or groups of interest that are working together.” And despite the fact that “information technology is widely used by law enforcement and security agencies,, many are still not sharing information effectively.”

Agencies which haven’t latched onto big data as a means to power predictive analysis, usually have not for one or more of the following three reasons.

  1. They lack the necessary skills
  2. They lack the necessary funding
  3. They lack the necessary technologies

The benefits the that predictive policing software can deliver are many, especially in an era where proactivity and crime prevention are defining so much more of the policing job duty. While the technology and the software aren’t “new,” as big data has become an everyday word, more and more police departments and law enforcement professionals are learning the details about its benefits and are moving toward adoption.

“Crime mapping,” according to an article by John Kamensky, “has been used by detectives since it was developed by an Italian geographer and a French mathematician in 1829. Today, however, new data, statistical tools and other advanced technologies are helping police departments across the country turn traditional police officers into data detectives who not only solve crime but predict it.”

Another article from Law Officer tells of what the IACP (the International Association of Chiefs of Police) has noticed about this trend.

“The IACP has seen mounting interest across the nation in predictive policing technology. ‘Law enforcement wants more detailed, more comprehensive and timelier incident level data, particularly in these economic times,’ says David Roberts, Senior Program Manager for the IACP’s Technology Center. Roberts attributes the interest in analytics to a push for greater transparency and accountability for law enforcement. ‘You’ve got to have that level of detail, and it’s got to be fairly close to real-time data so you can begin to efficiently and effectively deploy your resources. You’ve got to have those kinds of detailed incident reports to produce the metrics, ultimately, that allow you to measure and assess the value of a particular tactic.’”

Here are three of the big benefits of big data in predictive policing as cited from Dr. Jennifer Bachner of Johns Hopkins University:

  1. Analysis of space. “There are about a half-dozen hot spot detection methods. Point location, for example, involves mapping specific addresses where crimes have been reported and looking for patterns, since crime is more likely to happen near locations that have experienced it in the past. In hierarchical cluster analysis, crime incidents are grouped to prioritize patterns. And in density mapping, the resulting map looks similar to a topographical map.
  2. Analysis of both space and time. A second, and related, set of techniques goes a step further. For example, a software program called CrimeStat III, developed by the National Institute of Justice, permits examination of the path a criminal has taken. With Series Finder, being developed at MIT, ‘an analyst can perform a correlated walk analysis … which examines the temporal and spatial relationships between incidents in a given sequence to predict the next incident,” writes Bachner. But while this approach works in theory, she says, it “requires refinement before it can be regularly used by police departments.’
  3. Analysis of social networks. This approach, aimed at determining persons of interest rather than locations of interest, is new but growing in importance in the new age of social media. Like all human institutions, organized crime and gangs depend on interpersonal relationships. There are a number of different statistical and visualization tools that have been developed to analyze social networks, and Bachner reports that the Richmond, Va., police department, working with Virginia Commonwealth University, has developed a successful pilot program to integrate social network analysis into crime-fighting.”

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