Crime Prevention or how to catch criminals by capturing data

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Marleen Ribbens, Innovation Broker for the Noord-Holland region of the Dutch National Police Force, stresses that the preventative policing software she and partner ORTEC have developed is to support, not lead, decision-making. Nevertheless, she is confident it can play a vital role in future crime prevention.

If there is one area where Marleen believes the policing application can add most value, it is in the allocation of resources and priorities. By analysing over the long-term where interventions have the most impact, and feedback the impact of current interventions within 24 hours, the system provides important input that can help a shift leader decide how and where best to deploy their team. “The software is designed to identify which interventions will deliver maximum positive impact from the finite resources available to us.”

“We can help officers make informed choices, but the final choice is theirs.”

Hitting the hot spots

This information can also help partner organisations, especially local municipalities whose enforcement teams deal with infringements in areas such as parking, traffic, refuse and public nuisance. “By helping municipalities allocate their resources so they best complement the police’s planned input of resources in specific neighbourhoods or for priority issues, the partnership between police and municipality will become an increasingly efficient collaboration.” The software helps identify hot spots and potential criminal activity. Analysts also take into consideration local events, such as the release from prison of a known local burglar or the historical impact of local public events on, say, street crime or traffic congestion.

High-impact crime

The officer responsible for allocating resources has a HIC (High-Impact Crime) dashboard interface. This focuses in particular on the areas where the software’ predictive analysis can deliver most added value: street crime, burglary, and assaults and hold-ups. On the dashboard, the officer can see just how effective a given intervention is likely to be, broken down by neighbourhood, category of crime/criminal, etc. The historical data comes from longitudinal academic research as well as data from local municipalities, relevant government ministries and other agencies like the CBS (Central Bureau for Statistics), which supplies demographic data on neighbourhoods. The application shows updates, including day reports and incident details; analyses, including realistic prognoses of crime incidents; and advice as to the most effective interventions, which can also take into account policy decisions and/or policing priorities. “We want to be able to help officers allocating resources answer the key question, ‘Are we doing the right things in the right places at the right times?’ We can learn from the data, but it’s crucial to realise that data is never leading when it comes to decision-making about police interventions. Ultimately it’s a tool to help the experienced officer make more informed choices. But those final choices are always theirs.”

Trusted partner

Marleen has found ORTEC an invaluable partner. “We quickly came to trust that ORTEC understood what we wanted, which makes for a fruitful collaboration. They have the technical know-how, of course; but importantly within no time their consultants were tailoring their work to the world of police work and what police departments really need.” Since joining in late October 2011, Marleen has been very impressed with the openness within the Police to the potential benefits of analytics. “At the ‘shop floor’ level enthusiasm is tempered by the fact that the application does require extra administration. In recent years, police officers have seen a significant rise in the amount of paperwork they have to do. So it’s vital we ensure a balance between admin input and visible results. At the end of the day, these guys just want to catch criminals. If we can show this approach helps them do that, they’re going to be all for it.”

Attracting talent

Marleen is confident the role of analytics and big data in the work of the National Police Force will continue to grow over the coming years. As an indicator of the current trend, she cites the numbers of people now employed in analytics-related work. “Ten years ago there’d have been very few PhDs working within the police force in this area. Today there are 50, which in a small country is a lot.” Marleen feels attention now needs to be paid to accommodating these highly educated specialists who can help the Police at a strategic level. “I hope it can become an increasingly attractive employer for talented people coming out of higher education and entering the field of Operational Research.” One area for attention she feels is the development of clearer career paths for non-front line staff within the Police.

Changing perceptions

“It’s also important we position ourselves better with partners and the public at large as an innovative organization. This in turn will make us more interesting to cutting-edge technological organizations as a potential partner.” In terms of the police work itself, Marleen sees various ways in which analytics can play an important role in the future. “All sorts of areas — from traffic control, to preventative work with kids with a high risk of entering crime, to an approach focused on particular individual criminals — could potentially benefit enormously from data-based analysis.” Though the business world has largely embraced the benefits of analytics, this is for now less true of wider society. With the media tending to focus on the negative implications of the abuse of big data, an agency like the Police is perhaps the ideal candidate to show citizens just how much analytics can benefit them and their communities.

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