The huge amount of data available from video surveillance, body-worn devices, traffic cameras, and other IoT (Internet of things) devices means there is more real time and historical evidence for police to work with than ever before. Yet clearance rates haven’t gone down. In fact over the last few decades, clearance rates for homicide cases in the United States have remained fairly constant at about 64%.
Even for fictional genius-detective Sherlock Holmes, it would be difficult to process the vast amounts of information now available to law enforcement and understand which pieces really matter. But tried-and-true policing techniques supported by modern-day technologies have shown dramatic improvements in cities around the world. Chicago, for instance, has made enormous strides using the latest technology to help improve safety and responsiveness in some of the city’s most at risk neighborhoods, decreasing violent crime by 24% and shootings by 70%.
Sherlock Holmes is known to readers and movie and TV watchers the world over for his use of induction, deduction, forensic science, elementary observation, and logic to successfully investigate and crack crime cases. Holmes has inspired generations of intellectuals to think analytically and scientifically, and his crime-solving methods have actually been adopted by police forces around the world, and with good reason.
The many complexities of modern-day criminal investigations, mounting case volumes, and vast troves of data have given rise to the next generation of crime analysts. With the proper tools, these real world Sherlocks are making great strides in both preventing crimes and solving more cases and doing it all much more quickly.
Crime analysts are proving to be an indispensable asset in improving and accelerating police work and are earning their place as valued employees or consultants to many city departments large and small. The role of crime analysts is to identify trends and make recommendations based on their observations. By balancing reactive day-to-day crime-solving with predictive analysis, they have changed the face of criminal investigations.
The volume of qualitative and quantitative data available to analysts, combined with modern technology to speed up analysis, changes the game. It not only allows them to help solve cases faster and catch criminals more quickly, but also apply predictive modeling to help anticipate criminal activity. Using modern technology, crime analysts can now identify and analyze both short-term and long-term trends and patterns to help police and others target problems and create lasting solutions that keep communities and cities safer.
Analytics and Processes
Traditional crime analysts are tasked with several functions. The first is detective work to find possible links in a crime. Based on any leads they have, they try to pinpoint any suspects’ device readouts and analyze network connections and multiple databases to follow paths and look for any relevant clues that may shed more light on the case. If a blue SUV with local plates is involved in a crime, and they know that other arrests were made recently involving a similar car, they can dig deeper to see what links, if any, there may be between them.
Secondly, analytics software and data-assisted crime analysts search for significant patterns in crimes to crack cases. If law enforcement is looking to take down a drug network, crime analysts work to piece together who the suppliers are, who the buyers are, who the movers are, and more. Using their arrest and management systems records and data, they can better figure out how a criminal organization functions and how to put in place strategies to move the case forward.
One of the key contributors to improved clearance rates has been the application of new technologies and techniques to cold cases. As systems and techniques become more refined, even the most complex cases can be cracked through careful analysis of innumerable data sources.
The third function of analysts and analytics tools is to look for generic or statistical trends such as a rise in homicides or assaults in a specific area. This helps the analysts create maps and charts for the agency’s executive team to get a clearer picture of what’s happening in their precinct.
Until recently, many of these tasks needed to be done manually. Someone had to collect all the data and input the information into an Excel spreadsheet in order to see if the homicide and assault percentage were up or down over previous periods.
Coordinating and collaborating all the data collected from myriad sources such as video surveillance footage, automatic license plate recognition (ALPR), and information provided by private citizens or businesses is a huge undertaking. Gathering all that data from varying sources and interpreting it to make better, quicker decisions can now be done much more efficiently.
Many crime analysts are turning to innovative technology solutions such as Genetec’s Citigraf. This decision support system empowers public safety departments to build a deeper, data-driven understanding of what’s happening in their cities. Citigraf collects and manages information provided by integrated computer-aided dispatch systems, CCTV footage, ALPR data, record management systems, and more, to immediately identify and display the exact location of an event using icons on a map from a built-in geographical information system. Thanks to a collaborative integration with gunshot detection technology, response teams can be alerted when a gunshot has been detected. With this combined information, Citigraf provides rapid, actionable alerts to help law enforcement quickly intervene and take control of dangerous situations, stop crimes, and save lives.
Citigraf also offers agencies a new way of measuring, reporting, and determining the impact of new initiatives and interventions to increase overall public safety. Analytics dashboards, heat maps, and data analysis provide valuable insights into how crime and events move and change throughout a given area over time. Such data-driven analytics give law enforcement agencies forward-looking, predictive indicators of potential issues within the city’s coming operations cycle, helping officers define and modify patrol beats and staffing requirements.
Trusted technology solutions can continually analyze information from thousands of sensors and data points, assisting frontline public safety teams by bringing to light relevant events and information. This allows responders to prepare for what they can expect before arriving on site and allows individuals and agencies to see what’s happening across their jurisdictions.
The International Association of Crime Analysts reports that technology has proven instrumental in solving cases, developing effective strategies to prevent future crimes, educating the public, and allocating resources and prioritizing patrol investigations. The result is often a reduction in crime rates and the development of proactive public safety strategies.
We all need workspaces with easy access to the right tools to help us get the job done. While Sherlock Holmes carried out his investigations at his Baker Street home, the new modern crime lab typically features what are known as Strategic Decision Support Centers (SDSC). These crime-fighting nerve centers facilitate decision-making. They use dedicated hardware and software solutions and help local police departments develop proactive investigative and public safety strategies. SDSCs function to give crime analysts and police departments more comprehensive local intelligence and deeper insight so that they can use personnel and resources more effectively while improving officer safety.
Technology is proving a powerful tool in crime solving, it is and will always be the human element that ultimately cracks criminal cases. Just as Sherlock Holmes relied on his own powers of observation, induction, deduction, logic, and reasoning, modern-day crime solvers also trust their wits to uncover clues and find the truth. Leveraging technology to help in the process is simply a smart choice and…well…elementary.