Gone are the days when lasso wielding cowboys fought crime atop their horses and saved the day. In this day and age, we need weapons of a different kind to battle crime. Data, algorithms, analytics – these are the newest addition to help law enforcement officials maintain law and order. ‘Predictive policing’ is the art of predicting crimes before it takes place. It’s not about apprehending the right individuals, but about preventing the crime. Dozens of American cities – Los Angeles, Washington, Atlanta, Georgia, Tacoma, and Santa Cruz – are using an analytics software called PredPol to beat crime. This technology is based on the simple fact that humans are creatures of habit. No matter how much we might like to deny it, we stick to patterns and our preferences. We rarely stray from the known. This same trait is exploited by shopping websites that give us suggestions based on our past shopping sprees.
To oversimplify it, data is collected from public records, social media, and other sources of information and algorithms are used to determine the probability of the crime – the geographical location, approximate time, demographic – and action is taken accordingly. Of course, it is not possible to pinpoint the exact date, time, nature, or the culprit of the predicted crime but it gives the police officers an idea of the crime hotspots so that they can respond as soon as possible and prevent disasters. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time.
The fodder for predictive policing is data. The geographical location, climate, economic conditions, time (paydays, holidays, etc), and a bunch of other factors are keyed in before analyzing the data. The huge amount of data generated every passing day makes it all the more difficult to sift through it and that’s where Big Data comes in. Big Data Analytics is helpful in predicting the kind of crimes an area might be susceptible to at any given time. Maybe burglaries will be more prevalent in a certain neighborhood during a particular time period? This helps to mobilize the police force to watch out for such events. This is especially convenient when the taskforce is stretched thin and concentrated efforts are welcome. Tennessee witnessed a 30% decline in serious crime and a 15% decline in violent crimes on the implementation of predictive analytics. Though human crime analysts have the advantage of instinct, this system has proven to be more effective.
Big Data has also been used to aid in criminal investigations and serve justice when needed. Let’s look at some of the ways analytics has proven to be a boon to the law enforcement sector.
Guns are a common accessory in crimes and the world is witnessing an increase in gun usage, especially in the US. It only makes sense to track these weapons of destruction to catch the criminals themselves. It has become possible to trace the weapon or bullet found at the crime scene to know more about the manufacture, usage, and ownership to aid in the investigation. Guns have more or less become a form of currency for criminals with it being supplied across borders. Keeping tabs on the movement might lead to the criminals themselves.
Technology has made it possible to keep tabs on sex crimes like trafficking, assaults, pedophilia, etc. It’s hard to track them without a system. It’s hard for the officers to draw inferences from the growing pool of data without analytics. Analytics makes it easier to keep tabs on offenders, make connections that might have gone unnoticed, and co-ordinate the work across multiple departments. This has resulted in an increase in the number of cases being solved and the people being rescued.
Think like a criminal to catch a criminal. Criminals are coming up with ingenious ways to commit crimes but we have shiny new armor to combat it in the form of technology. It’s to be expected that it will get shinier with the advancements in tech. Integrating Big Data Analytics and predictive policing is the way forward as it has yielded concrete positive results. It’s always a smart move to head into battle with our strongest armor and arsenal to turn the tide in our favor.