Effective policing through social media

Adopting next-generation technologies for better policing

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Hong-Eng Koh | March 25, 2015



Social-enabled policing is a concept which police and law enforcement agencies should adopt in this age of social networking and crowdsourcing. In 20th century, community policing seemed to give way to problem-oriented policing, with a focus on effective methods to solve problems of crime and disorder, including methodology, tools and data; but not on community relationship, let alone on prevention. In the early 21st century, problem-oriented policing evolved into intelligence-led policing. The focus was on integrated crime and criminal analysis, profiling of serious offenders, supported by an informed police command structure.

With the advancement of analytical tools, intelligence-led policing soon led to today’s predictive policing (PredPol). This allows police to mobilise and deploy necessary resources to mitigate threats. PredPol relies on past crime and criminal data, and thus assumes that the cause and reason of crime and disorder do not change. Does this really prevent a crime and disorder or merely suppress its symptom?

Individuals, organised criminals and even terrorists are ‘crime-sourcing’ to help each other, though they may not know each other. Likewise, the social community is contributing to big data by sharing information and media that are of high value to police.

The right mix

Data analysis is not new. It has been used widely in intelligence-led policing – to identify a suspect for example – and for predictive policing that is aimed to prevent a crime through proactive patrolling. We understand that the difference between success and failure in predictive policing lies in the relevant data model. Predictive policing mainly relies on historical data and crime pattern, and knowledge from experienced police and intelligence officers. It is clear that traditional data analysis based on past incidents, crime records, intelligence, call detail records, video surveillance and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) are not sufficient. It’s about fusion of variety of data: traditional, social and open-source intelligence (OSINT), usually at high velocity with high volume.

Organisations need to evolve their data management architecture into a big data management system that enables seamless integration of all types of data from a variety of sources, including Hadoop, relational and NoSQL. While simplifying access to all data, a big data management system can also enable organisations to leverage existing skills and maintain enterprise-grade data security and governance for sensitive or regulated information.

Police and the government have to protect the privacy of their constituents. For example, the UK has a National ANPR Data Centre. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies follow strict guidelines on the use of such data. It is important to point out that a cornerstone of social-enabled policing is its ability to analyse public sentiments through such OSINT.

Social-enabled policing supports prevention, detection and solving of crime and disorder. It is about community policing, intelligence-led policing and predictive policing. It is made possible through social networking and crowdsourcing, and the effects brought about by them, complementing traditional policing. Mere engagement of the community through physical police presence is insufficient, we need a holistic social strategy and social presence to listen, analyse, understand, engage and communicate with the community.

Social-enabled policing is not just about adoption of social networking technologies and collecting open source intelligence. It is still about traditional community policing, intelligence-led policing and predictive policing, complemented by social media and social networking. It allows the social-savvy generation to report incidents and be engaged 24x7 through multiple channels. It is also about removal of barriers and stovepipes, facilitating a 360-degree view of the victim, witness, suspect and incident.

Criminals and terrorists adopt technologies at a faster rate than government agencies. Technologies are both tools and threats to police. The younger generation is dependent on technologies, social networking, big data, cloud, mobility and even Internet of Things. Police and law enforcement agencies have to stay ahead of this curve.

Also, one should remember that good old policing and detective skills are still essential; technologies are only tools to mitigate this world of big data.

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