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Can You Prevent Crime Using Technology?

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Predicting and preventing crime is the Holy Grail of law enforcement. CNN contributor Heather Kelly wrote about advances in crime-predicting technology over five years ago. I’m sure these technologies—including geographical heat mapping based on criminal and sociological factors, apps that allow police officers to file reports more quickly, mobile fingerprint scanners, and the ShotSpotter system to identify the source of a gunshot—have improved since this article appeared.

How much can technology help law enforcement personnel? More importantly, what’s the key to capitalizing on these technological benefits?

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Every crime is unique, like a ... well, you get it. Photo by: JCoahgne

 

ENTERING THE REALM OF SCIENCE FICTION

The film Minority Report was released in 2002 and the Philip K. Dick short story it was based on was published in 1956. Yet the concept of using data to find criminals and predict their actions still fascinates us. The concept of a “precog” using their powers to assist the “PreCrime” unit to find criminals before they commit a crime is fantastic, and makes for good reading and movie drama.

Today’s technologists are attempting to use the power of data to better direct police forces and deliver more efficient and effective law enforcement.

In my law enforcement and military experience, I used several devices and software programs for this purpose. What I ultimately found, however, was that technological capabilities by themselves weren’t all that useful. To gain tangible value, the tools and the insights they delivered needed to be integrated into a unified view.

When Captain John Anderton first got notice from the Precogs of a potential crime, he headed straight to his big computer to sort through data stores and images, decide what was related to his inquiry, discard unneeded information, collate relevant material, and identify the criminal.

In the real world, we don’t lack for amazing capabilities, but we don’t have a way to bring together disparate data sources including images, sounds, heat maps, intelligence, emails, and mobile data. We tend to analyze information sets individually and use human memory and brainpower to tie the elements together.

NEEDING A SINGLE POINT OF VIEW

Before joining Nuix, I was responsible for protecting my employer against intellectual property theft. I faced a similar problem: I simply couldn’t look across large data sets electronically. I had to ask permission, create spreadsheets, request printouts, and generally spend a great deal of time manually investigating events. Our police forces face the same daunting task, even where lives and physical property are in danger.

What if it were possible to tag, synthesize, collate, and corroborate all these data sources together under one roof? Would that be a way to speed up law enforcement response?

This is the challenge we face as end-users and as providers of technology. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the world needs ways to accurately predict crimes and thereby prevent them. It’s hopefully not possible to reach the point where your thoughts could get you arrested. However, it’s definitely possible in the very near future to reduce, or eliminate, the time wasted trying to find the connections manually.

This is true for “traditional” police work and—the topic of our latest white paper—for companies concerned with stopping cybercriminals. The crimes may differ, but the needs of investigators and incident responders are very much the same. Technology, like the developing Nuix platform, has an incredibly important part to play.