Police forces around the world are fighting crime with new data-mining tools
Contrary to the Hollywood image in movies like “Minority Report,” technology hasn’t served law enforcement particularly well over the years.
The sci-fi vision of police officers rushing to the scene of a crime before any crime has even been committed may be rather far-fetched but technology is increasingly playing a role in the modern police force.
Accenture recently studied police forces from around the world and found that in every region, police are hungry for new technology. According to the report, The Future of the Force: Police, Technology and Serving the Public, a range of technologies could assist the police with their enquiries, from electronic notebooks to autonomous crowd monitoring, biometrics, including facial recognition, sensor networks and augmented reality.
A large number of law enforcement agencies are still hindered by antiquated technologies. But agencies that have upgraded their operating and investigative systems have been tremendously effective in ensuring the safety of their “citizens”.
Police forces like the Guardia Civil in Spain and An Garda Siochana in Ireland were early technology adopters and now benefit from some of the most efficient police operations and investigative systems in the world.
The vast majority of forces in the UK already use Twitter and Facebook to interact with the public, according to the report.
“Our research revealed that everyone was using the Met’s Twitter handle to send in vast amounts of information. There were accusations of criminal activities, requests for information, tweets about what the police were doing and some reporting of serious events that should have been sent through 999,” said report author Jamie Bartlett.
What many people don’t know is that there’s a solid infrastructure of closed-circuit TV in most cities. Historically, these CCTV cameras – both publicly and privately owned – have been used retrospectively to examine crime scenes for evidence.
In Weymouth, CrowdVision hooked a digital camera on a local bar which overlooked the crowds gathered on the beach to watch events on giant screens. The camera was connected to a computer which ran software to offer real-time analysis of the crowd’s movements.
An algorithm detected human heads and analysed how those heads were moving from one video frame to another, in order to predict movement.
The program will apply predictive analytics to video feeds to detect which of a multitude of street incidents, such as crowd and traffic movements, pose real concerns for public safety.
Will drones ever replace police helicopters?
Several police forces are using small, lightweight drones as a cheap alternative to police helicopters. The report suggests that police drones could also be used as platforms for sensors, in future.
Many police vehicles are already fitted with complex sensors which offer data from engine efficiency to driver behaviour.
The police also routinely use sensors, known as automatic person location systems (APLS), on officers which help them locate someone if they have been hurt or to feed back information.
Biometrics and beyond
Next on the horizon of law-enforcement technologies is biometrics, including facial recognition. The same software that has been used to identify high rollers and cheats in casinos, for example, can now be used to single out people banned from football stadiums or terrorists on a watch list at key border-control points.
Similar biometrics, including iris recognition, are now used to match passengers to their digital images on e-passports at border crossings all over the world, something that was unthinkable a decade ago.
With increasingly digitised data and faster networks able to offer up that data in real-time, the report asks whether we will see Minority Report-style policing in future, with officers accessing information via devices such as Google Glass.
The reality may be a little more mundane,
“There is evidence that the more stress public safety workers are under, the less cognitive ability they can devote to technology.
“Therefore it is important to consider what information is supplied to police officers and account for how they can digest it and interact with it,”
“The question is to what extent augmentation could lead to “deskilling” as officers rely less on experience and developing skills in searching and seeking information and more on “management by remote control or blinding following information drawn from systems,” – said Dave Allen, a senior lecturer at Leeds University
By Cabal Martin | Staff Writer