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How big data is changing the nature of policing from reactive to proactive

Tom Macaulay | Feb. 27, 2017
Police in the UK have been using big data to predict the locations of future crimes

Using details like the location of cashpoints painted a fuller picture of where population density was concentrated in a way residential records could not. Their work has also been used to identify where and when women are at high risk of domestic abuse, through statistical analysis of the impact of football results and temperature changes, and to establish better practices on how to support different absences from work.

Barriers to implementation

Changing the organisational culture will be fraught with difficulties if the police are not fully informed about the process of accumulating and analysing the data that is acted on. They need to understand the entire pathway in order to justify any actions that result from them, both to the public and to themselves, as James Slessor, the managing director of global public safety at Accenture explained.

"The human user can be neglected and that person must receive the right information in the right format at the right time for it to have any value."

Data silos and interoperability issues are other recurring limitations to public sector innovation, and the police forces are no exception.

"We have 43 different police forces in England and Wales," says Hill. "Each police force, it will not surprise you, has lots of legacy silo systems that we've built up over a number of years.

"It will probably not surprise you that most of those don't talk to each other, and if they do, the exchange of data can be challenging from a security perspective on our existing national infrastructure.

"So we do need to modernise. We need to modernise infrastructures and maximise the value and insight we get from that data."

Predictive policing has already been implemented around the world, but it is not without its critics. Data analysis has been accused of placing a disproportionate focus on only those crimes that are most commonly reported of reinforcing stigma among certain groups that quickly leads to racial profiling. Public support is critical, so their trust is essential.

"We need to be able to demonstrate a clear public gain and a clear public benefit to work with and do things [with data] across all of the security, the ethics, the legitimacy and the insights, because ultimately we want to deliver fundamental policing bringing that data back to 1829 in a fundamentally data-driven way, that puts data as an asset in the heart of our decision-making," says Hill.

There's work to be done, but the evidence suggests that data analytics has the potential to finally realise the overriding ambition for policing that Sir Peel made official almost 200 years ago.


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