New technology is changing the way law enforcement agencies fight crime. Wearable tech is already being tested in police departments, and the next wave of gadgets could consist of applications that predict crime before it even occurs.

Predictive analytics suggest where to fight crime
As budgets dwindle and force law enforcement to conduct operations with limited manpower, agencies search for ways to become more efficient. Big data promises to improve police efficiency by generating leads about where crimes may occur prior to dispatch. The results are not precise, but predictive analytics can guide officers toward places most likely to need their help.

“This is changing the way we do our jobs and the way we approach crime,” Det. Sgt. Patrick Ryder, the head of the intelligence section for the Nassau County Police, told Newsday. “These are tools we’ve never had before. Now that they’re here, we can actually predict what’s going to happen and stop it before it does.”

One of the innovators in this market is PredPol, which uses historical records of past criminal behavior to forecast future crime. According to CNN, the analytics software is designed to identify areas where theft or muggings may take place, taking local factors into account when making predictions.

“If the data is indicating a hot spot, we are able to immediately deploy resources there. And in a lot of instances we are able to make quality arrests because we’re in the right area at the right time,” said John Williams, a crime analysis manager for the Memphis police.

Agencies learn the ethics of big data
Predictive policing is still in its preliminary stages, but departments have already seen a return. Memphis police relied on another analytics program—IBM’s Criminal Reduction Utilizing Statistical History (CRUSH)—to help reduce crime by 30 percent. Newsday reports the Nassau County Police experienced a 12 percent drop in crime since emphasizing predictive reports last January, marking their lowest two-month crime rate in almost four decades. Similar results were found in New York’s Suffolk County, where crime dropped 11 percent in the two years since implementing these tools.

Law enforcement benefits from this data analysis, but privacy advocates are wary of its potential to infringe on personal rights. Civilians do not want to be profiled by police, nor do they want to have personal information publicized through the use of these applications.

Analytic experts, however, emphasize that the data will only be used to prepare law enforcement for possible occurrences of crime. Rather than applying the information to make preventative arrests, it will help them make better use of available resources and reduce response time.

“It’s not saying a crime will occur at a particular time and place, no one can know that,” Mark Cleverly, the head of the IBM unit for predictive crime analytics, told the AFP. “But it can say you can expect a wave of vehicle thefts based on everything we know.”

According to the Harvard Business Review, one of the key components to the long-term success of big data projects is people. Analysts do not need to be scientists; anyone with field knowledge can conduct basic assessments with predictive tools. However, officers must determine which response is appropriate for a given prediction and consider the factors that play into the analysis to avoid misuse of the information. As crime-prediction software becomes more prevalent, law enforcement training will need to match the evolving demands of an agency.

Programs like PredPol and CRUSH guide officer assignments toward a better use of resources. When they operate more efficiently, agencies also improve the safety and efficacy of first responders out on patrol.

News brought to you by Envisage Technologies, building software for law enforcement, public safety and the military. Ready. By Design.