4 Ways Law Enforcement Agencies Are Using Data to Protect the Public


Law enforcement agencies such police departments and investigation bureaus have always dealt with data in their duty to stamp down on crime and keep the peace in the communities that they serve. From witness statements and crime scene details to suspect descriptions and their criminal records, it’s no exaggeration to say that data contributes a lot in the law enforcers’ ability to perform their job and to exercise their mandate. Without data, any law enforcement organization may find it difficult to do their duties.

That said, how exactly do they use the huge amounts of data that they gather on a daily basis? More specifically, what are the different ways in which they can use all that data to help protect the public? If you’ve ever been curious about such questions, then read on as we explore the notable ways in which law enforcement has wrangled data to help preserve public safety.

Predictive policing

Predictive policing is one of the novel ways in which data is being leveraged by the police in order to help lower crime and protect the public. It involves the use of advanced real-time data analysis software to handle and integrate the huge amounts of data that the police already have and continue to generate, allowing them to map out crime hot spots in their area and to predict what types of crimes will happen in those locations.

This allows the police department to have a better idea about where to deploy their officers so that they will have a higher chance of stopping or resolving the crimes before they can happen or soon after they occur. Moreover, the analysis also helps identify repeat offenders in the hot spots, allowing the police to make more effective arrests.

Predictive policing may sound like science fiction, but it’s already reality. In fact, it’s been seeing use as far back as the early 2010s, with the police departments of major cities in the US such as Los Angeles, New York, Miami-Diade, Memphis, and Santa Cruz using their own versions of Predictive Policing systems to better run their precincts.

As for whether it helps or not, the proof is clear: all of the participating cities reported lower arrests and lower crime rates ever since they implemented predictive policing. Memphis itself reported a 36.8% reduction in total crime in just one area alone, with an overall average reduction of 15.8% in violent crimes in the entire city—and that’s without increasing the amount of officer patrols.

Solving cold cases

Another way in which law enforcement agencies use data to protect public safety is by using it to solve criminal cases that happen in their areas of jurisdiction. By doing this, they prevent further criminal acts from being perpetrated, thus making their communities safer.

While traditional data analysis has always played a key role in solving criminal cases, it can only do so much when it comes to solving old, unsolved crimes. In these “cold” cases, the existing information is often incomplete, and leads to inconclusive ends that fail to score convictions.

It’s here that real-time data analytics can help once more. Just like in predictive policing, police departments use analytical solutions to compare specific details of a cold case against others within their database of information. These details are juxtaposed against existing historical data about other crimes, and alongside information about the distinct crime behavior patterns of registered criminals. The end result is a generated list of potential suspects that the police can then pursue until the real culprit is found.

Yet another futuristic idea that sounds too good to be true, except that it’s already been in action for some years. For instance, the Miami-Diade Police Department has been employing this technology since 2013. Their crime analytics program, codenamed Blue PALMS, has helped massively in reducing crime and incidents of recidivism by helping identify culprits in numerous cold cases.

Policy improvement

When it comes to keeping citizens safe, data isn’t just used by law enforcement agencies in order to catch criminals or to solve cases. It’s also being used in helping correct police procedures and make them more effective, while also cutting down on wrongful arrests.

One great example of use case was made apparent during the Stop-and-Frisk controversy that the New York Police Department got embroiled in. Here, the amount of stop-and-frisk incidents that NYPD officers initiated during the years 2002 to 2013 was analyzed. Through the analysis, it was discovered that almost 9 out of every 10 people who were stopped and frisked down for weapons and contraband were found to be innocent. More than that, 9 out of 10 people who were stopped and frisked were of non-Caucasian lineage.

This led to the stop-and-frisk policies of the NYPD being revamped altogether, with the amount of stops made drastically being reduced from 685,724 in 2011 to a mere 46,235 in 2014. The analysis and the resulting insights gleaned from it helped the police department curb its overzealousness while also promoting a better sense of personal accountability among its officers.

Training police officers in identifying vulnerable individuals of society

Finally, data is also being used to help train police officers in being able to better identify and interact with the vulnerable individuals in their districts, such as juveniles and youths that have been exposed to or have become victims of community and domestic violence. The US federal government recognized as early as 2013 that such individuals require urgent and immediate rehabilitation in order to prevent them from becoming actual criminals later in life.

As such, the government has since invested in the improvement of data collection systems to allow for more details to be captured when it pertains to reported crimes, victims, and the social context of the crimes—especially if they involves young individuals as victims, offenders, or bystanders. By having all of these information on hand, the federal government hopes to be able to train police officers to identify these young individuals in advance and treat them differently from common criminals.

One particular law enforcement agency where this is already being applied is in the Scottsdale Police Department in Arizona, where data pertaining to juveniles has helped in them being able to deal with youth in their communities. The insights provided by data analytics allowed them to create and implement a pre-arrest and court record diversion program, allowing vulnerable youth to be rescued instead of apprehended. They are then rehabilitated and released without any marks on their public records, allowing them to move on to become productive adults without having the stigma of their past mistakes haunt them.

Data: an important element in keeping the public safe

We’ve all heard about how data is being used in many companies and industries to help drive productivity and profitability. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, the above-listed case studies of data usage by law enforcement agencies illustrate that data can also be used for the betterment of society, specifically in protecting the public’s safety. We can only imagine just what other major roles data analytics will play in the future.