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

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Law enforcement agencies such as 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 greatly to the law enforcers’ ability to perform their job and exercise their mandate. Without data, any law enforcement organization may find it difficult to do its duties.

Protect the PublicThat said, how exactly do they use the huge amounts of data they gather daily? More specifically, what are the different ways to 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 the police are leveraging data to help lower crime and protect the public. It involves using 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 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 to 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, making more effective arrests.

Predictive policing may sound like science fiction, but it’s already a 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-Dade, Memphis, and Santa Cruz using their own versions of Predictive Policing systems to run their precincts better.

Whether it helps or not, the proof is clear: all 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 number of officer patrols.

Solving cold cases

Another way law enforcement agencies use data to protect public safety is to solve criminal cases in their jurisdiction areas. 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 much when solving old, unsolved crimes. In these “cold” cases, the existing information is often incomplete, leading to inconclusive ends that fail to score convictions.

It’s here that real-time data analytics can help once more. Like 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 result is a generated list of potential suspects that the police can pursue until the real culprit is found.

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

Policy improvement

When keeping citizens safe, data isn’t just used by law enforcement agencies to catch criminals or 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 a use case was made apparent during the Stop-and-Frisk controversy that the New York Police Department got embroiled in. Here, the number of stop-and-frisk incidents that NYPD officers initiated from 2002 to 2013 was analyzed. The analysis revealed 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 NYPD policies being revamped altogether, with the number of stops made drastically reduced from 685,724 in 2011 to a mere 46,235 in 2014. The analysis and the resulting insights from it helped the police department curb its overzealousness while 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 to better identify and interact with the vulnerable individuals in their districts, such as juveniles and youths who 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 to prevent them from becoming actual criminals later in life.

As such, the government has since invested in improving data collection systems to capture more details when it pertains to reported crimes, victims, and the social context of the crimes—especially if they involve young individuals as victims, offenders, or bystanders. By having all of this information on hand, the federal government hopes 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 Arizona’s Scottsdale Police Department. Data about juveniles has helped them 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 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.