London police using Big Data to tackle small crime

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Small criminals are predictable, at least that’s what London’s Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) are hoping. New software, developed by Accenture, pulls large amounts of data in-use by the police service and puts it through an advanced analytics engine to predict when criminals are likely to strike.

By analysing five years’ worth of data, it is hoped that an accurate prediction of when / if a criminal will re-offend can be made. The data was gathered over a four year period of monitoring gang members across 32 boroughs, and was subsequently compared to criminal acts conducted in the fifth year to see whether the software was accurate.

The engine itself looks at aspects of an individual’s record, including; geography, past offenses, and associations. The advanced software will even keep an eye on social media for inflammatory comments such as taunts of other gang members, or the organising of a crime itself.

Privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch is requesting more information to be made public.

Accenture highlights the fact that police forces up and down the country are seeing funding cuts, and therefore experiencing problems with limited resources. The ability to effectively allocate such precious resources is important, and big data analysis helps to save on cost whilst ensuring the vital public service is unaffected.

In terms of public reception, this could be seen as invasive after Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations about mass surveillance. The public is more likely to be acceptant if the potential benefits are clear, but privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch is requesting more information to be made public about the initiative.

Although this is said to be the first time Accenture’s analytics have been used in the UK, the firm’s software has been used for similar reasons in Spain, and in Singapore where the company tested software which monitors the video feeds of crowds, traffic, and other events to alert the authorities to potential risks.

“It is clear that harnessing and analysing vast data sets may simplify the work of the police,” said European human rights group Statewatch earlier this year

“However, this in itself is not a justification for their use. There are all sorts of powers that could be given to law enforcement agencies, but which are not, due to the need to protect individual rights and the rule of law – effectiveness should never be the only yardstick by which law enforcement powers are assessed.

“The ends of crime detection, prevention and reduction cannot in themselves justify the means of indiscriminate data-gathering and processing.”

Should police be using data analytics to predict future offences? Let us know in the comments.

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