Kicking off our series of articles on the imperative for data-driven law enforcement, we discuss how the effective use of data can inform decision making, improve processes, and increase actionable intelligence for all personnel.
Data and information are at the heart of modern policing. Yet, when it comes to data usage across policing and law enforcement, there is undoubtedly enormous untapped potential to do more with the information held.
According to Kate Hemstock, Senior Data and Insight Consultant at Agilisys and former Strategic Analysis Manager at Derbyshire Constabulary, one of the most significant opportunities is data-driven policing.
“There is a huge opportunity to use of a wide variety of digitised data sources to inform decision making, improve processes, and increase actionable intelligence for all police personnel, whether they’re operating at the frontline or in positions of strategic leadership,” explains Kate. “Professional experience, the expertise of police officers and a little bit of gut instinct are, of course, valuable in the decision-making process, but being able to triangulate those skills with data-led evidence can be incredibly powerful. As can the ability to evaluate activity, show where decisions have been effective, and share learnings through data.”
James West, sector lead for policing and criminal justice at Agilisys and a former operational police officer, adds: “Data is becoming increasingly important as the complexity and geography of crime increases. As a police officer, my professional judgement allowed me to look in the right places, where to go to do stop searches and who I needed to target, based on a little bit of national intelligence and a lot of local knowledge. The world moves on, however, and I think policing can benefit greatly from learning about what others are doing across their force – and elsewhere.”
James points to the demands on policing becoming more significant and resources stretched at unprecedented levels as an excellent example of why data-driven policing needs to be embraced.
“There’s no escaping the fact that policing is changing, and the increased complexity is adding pressure. The types of vulnerability-based incidents and crimes police are dealing with is a good example. These are extremely challenging and resource-intensive, and the partnership work necessary to deal with them effectively is a significant drain on resources.
If we can use data to demonstrate to the Home Office and senior decision-makers how the demand and complexity are changing, we can start to reshape thinking around how we best use resources.”
Kate adds that there’s an opportunity to take this thinking even further by utilising insights to predict demand. “The COVID-19 pandemic prompted multiple shifts in demand that changed the way resources were deployed. We saw how different demands, repressed because of restrictions, peaked as we returned to some kind of ‘normal’. Policing found itself in a position where we were scrambling around to try and respond when all the data was there.
“We didn’t see the pandemic coming; nobody did. But once it happened, we shouldn’t have had to scramble around to put things in place, do bespoke analysis, build bespoke reports and draw datasets to build that picture to be able to resource and respond and prepare. We could, and perhaps should, have been there already.”
Evie Dineva, Senior Analytics and AI Consultant at Agilisys, is working in partnership with a UK police force to deliver a data-centric transformation project. Through this work, she says it is clear how data can unlock predictive, proactive crime prevention.
“We must not forget that the mission of policing is to make communities safer by upholding the law. By overlaying evidence-based data with tacit knowledge, we can power better decision making.
If we take it to the next step, we can utilise data to not just reactively go and fight crime but proactively prevent it.
“This requires joined-up, multi-agency thinking, but the data is there. Through the work Agilisys is doing with local government, we know sensors in parks are providing live data about how many people are in parks. How can we use that data to inform patrols of the situation and ensure the appropriate measures are put into place? If we take it to the next step and embrace facial recognition and artificial intelligence, can we identify instigators of disorder and assess risk accordingly?”
Evie says that data possibilities extend beyond crime prevention to an operational level too. “How can we predict demand for officers or patrol cars in certain areas? How could we predict demand for Freedom of Information requests? And, even better, how can data and automation work hand-in-hand to free up resources and so that individuals within the organisation perform more added-value tasks?”
James adds: “At Agilisys, we know from our experience of working across police, local government and health – and bringing all of them together – that the real future of data-driven policing revolves around bringing multiple datasets from these organisations together at the earliest opportunity. Get this right, and it can be hugely beneficial to all sides.”
While setting up multi-agency data sharing isn’t going to happen overnight, the good news is that existing technology can improve data quality at minimal cost and rapidly deliver a positive outcome and a positive user experience.
“Tools exist within the Microsoft platform that can deliver a streamlined user experience, without spending on expensive software,” explains James. “That means there are quick operational wins available. For example, using Power BI, we can perform some geo-fencing that prompts an officer travelling through a specific area to go and check on a prolific burglar who should be in his bed because he’s under curfew.
“Policing isn’t yet reaping the rewards of that sort of behaviour because we’ve not got to the point of push notifications for officers as they’re driving through a specific area. The technology exists, it’s relatively straightforward to implement, so it’s surely only a matter of time before we see this – and multiple other data-driven policing tools – in action.”