Incorporation of GIS and other emerging technologies in crime investigation and tracking is making law enforcement agencies more agile and efficient.
We all have seen in crime thrillers how criminals outsmart the cops by a mix of subterfuge and wrong tips. Throughout the ages, there has been a cat-and-mouse chase between criminals and law enforcement officials. Cops rely on investigative leads and follow their trail to catch the culprits before they plan their next move.
One of the sure-shot ways of ensuring that a criminal doesn’t hoodwink the authorities and carry on with his machinations is the use of spatial technology and location. “As technology advances and becomes easily accessible, criminals are quick to adopt new ways to plan and execute unlawful activities. So, we have to look for innovative ways to tackle such threats,” emphasizes Yve Dreisen, Chief Superintendent of Federal Judicial Police in Limburg, Belgium.
Incorporation of GIS and other emerging technologies in crime investigation, detection and tracking is making the law enforcement agencies more agile and efficient in nipping criminal conspiracies in the bud.
“Geospatial makes it possible to track and trace persons, vehicles and it can also be interesting for customs. Especially when suspects are moving, you can actually track their way,” says But Klaasen, Head of Innovation, Ministry of Justice and Security, the Netherlands.
Geospatial the common thread
Geospatial is playing a crucial role in strengthening law enforcement and is being widely adopted by police organizations across the globe. CompStat (which stands for COMPare STATistics) was a pioneering method first deployed in New York in the early 1990s that helped substantially reduce crime. Harnessing the power of GIS for providing real-time insights and situational awareness changed policing in New York forever. In 1993, before the NYPD (New York Police Department) adopted CompStat, there were around 2,000 cases of homicides in the city. By 2015, the number of such cases reduced to 352.
CompStat relies on real-time information sharing, rapid deployment of resources, preparing effective strategies and consistent feedback and follow-ups. It uses GIS as a common operational platform to draw real-time attention on emerging crime trends. There are dots on a map that depict the crime infested localities in a city, enabling authorities to deploy force rationally. Los Angeles and Baltimore too have witnessed reduction in violent crimes by integrating CompStat in their workflows and rigorously following its leads. In 1996, the US National Institute of Justice (NIJ) set up the Crime Mapping Research Center (CMRC) to promote research, evaluation, development and dissemination of GIS technology.
“Location-based data and geospatially enabled analytics are becoming more and more critical to Homeland Security missions and community public safety functions,” says David Alexander, Senior Technologist, Science and Technology Directorate, US Department of Homeland Security.
There may be a definitive strategy to reduce crime, but it needs to be accurately known where the assets are, so that they can be moved to and fro. It is important also to know what is happening in a particular region, how is this relevant to a threat, what is the exposure of the population in that area, or is there any sign of violence eruption or history of radicalism. This is where geospatial comes in the picture. “These technologies are deployed across all mission sets to support more effective strategic planning, tactical decision-making and automated emergency measures,” Alexander adds.
“Geospatial framework and Artificial Intelligence will be used for all forms of policing in the future. As technology becomes more effective and sophisticated, different law enforcement agencies will be adopting it,” says Irakli Beridze, Head of the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, United Nations Inter-Regional Crime and Justice Research Institute.
Location and spatial technologies can also help boost cybersecurity. For instance, as Mark P. Pfeiffer, Chief Visionary Officer, SAIL LABS Technology GmbH, points out, “Obfuscating location data and tracking location data is always one step after the other. We are able to geo-locate data through our backend technology.” Location intelligence can even work in counter-terrorism. Analysis of social media posts and location tracking is a common method used by law enforcement agencies to take pre-emptive actions. Even for tracing terror suspects or criminals, location tracking of their social media or phone records often comes handy.
Empowering the police force
The Queensland Police Service in Australia is extensively using GIS and geospatial. It has maintained a database that has over 18 million unique pieces of information that help with the investigation in crimes against children. “The system can share and connect with other law enforcement agencies. We share our data across those networks. As more law enforcement agencies get aware of this, your database gets bigger since others also start sharing their data,” says Jon Rouse, Detective Inspector, Queensland Police Service, Australia.
In New Zealand, for instance, there are only 600 police stations throughout the country, and people are spread far and wide. Therefore, geospatial technology is really important to understand the whereabouts of those people. “We have been using geospatial technology for years now and our emergency center also runs on it. So, when a call comes in, the system knows where the caller is, locates the closest officer and dispatches him,” says Jevon McSkimming, Assistant Commissioner, New Zealand Police. “With the help of geospatial, we have changed the way we deploy our people. My function is making sure that we have the capability to understand, utilize and apply technology so that we can see where our officers are,” he stresses.
Another interesting application is roadside ticketing for speeding using geospatial. Since smartphones are geospatially enabled, use of location analytics enables the police to keep a check on them. “We can also analyze which parts of the country have got more speed violators or how it flows in the criminal justice sector. It is even available to the public now,” McSkimming adds.
“Use cases of geospatial technology in crime prevention are very interesting. If a car is involved in a murder attack or a robbery, we need to be first able to locate it by using the digital systems in it,” says Dreisen.
He adds that in case of a car crash, geospatial technology can be used for diverting traffic and establishing a communication to create an emergency corridor. He narrates one particular case where geospatial helped nab the criminals – the investigators in a murder case did everything possible, including witness statements, seizing camera footage, wiretapping, DNA, forensics and more, but could not solve the case until they turned to the suspect’s car. Only after investigating the car, it was proven that the vehicle was at the spot when the incident took place.
Illegal immigration and border security
Undocumented migration and the influx of illegal refugees is causing political convulsions and a lot of chaos in many countries. Geospatial technologies can help track migration and strengthen border security.
There is a particular use case of geospatial for migration. It’s for people who try to slip into another country without a passport or any identification. “Sometimes they say we live in a village where there is a war going on and we crossed a river to escape or some such story. Geospatial tools allow the immigration officer to quick verify such details,” points out Klaasen.
“We are taking part in the EU Satellite program Copernicus, where we have, among the 11 services, vessel anomaly detections. There are some basic patterns, which keep repeating themselves, and lead to a particular picture,” says Brendt Koerner, Deputy Executive Director, European Border and Coastguard Agency, FRONTEX.
“The main challenge before us is building up better security controls. Big Data and geospatial analysis are all going to be game-changers as to where it is heading next,” says Dr. John Coyne, Head of Strategic Policing and Law Enforcement & Head of the North and Australia’s Security. Be it detecting anomalies in crime scenes, cross-border crimes, or detecting patterns, or search and rescue, geospatial analytics and Artificial Intelligence together can facilitate decision-making and give law enforcing agencies the chance to draw certain conclusions and become more proactive.