Big Data has a role to play, not only in helping to boost public security but also in improving citizen relations with the local police force.

Policing in the Era of Big Data

The profound evolution that has taken place in information technologies in recent years means that collected data is now used by a wide range of players in the economic sphere, across the board from helping to understand consumer behaviour to combating bank fraud. Meanwhile it has also become an essential tool for bodies, such as the police, whose responsibility it is to maintain public safety and security.

Over the last twenty years, legislation beefing up the authorities’ recourse to data analysis for public security purposes has been passed all over the world.  Of course the basic aims of security nowadays also need to be balanced with citizens’ demands for greater transparency and the widespread calls to curb unacceptable conduct by police officers.  Perhaps most importantly, the relationship of trust between security organisations and local communities – especially those most affected by violence and other crime – needs rebuilding.

Restoring citizens’ trust in the police force                                                  

The US White House has been focusing hard on this last aspect. In May this year, against a background of an alarming increase in the number of violent acts committed by police officers, the White House launched the Police Data Initiative. The purpose of this initiative is ultimately to strengthen citizens’ trust in their local police force through greater transparency and better data analysis.

Les villes participantes au "Police Data Initiative"

Map showing the cities whose police departments are taking part in ‘The Police Data Initiative’

The White House encourages police officers, detectives and other people in positions of responsibility in the twenty-one participating cities to collaborate with Big Data experts. The aim is to demonstrate how use of Big Data can enhance policing efficiency by highlighting best practice on knowledge sharing and problem-solving that can serve as an example to police departments across the country.

The city of Hampton, Virginia, whose police department is participating in the Initiative, has taken advantage of the momentum to develop and launch this month an open data platform. The site is designed to give citizens direct access to crime statistics, details of situations involving police officers, and other frequently-requested information. Platform users can download and save such information.

Bringing in experts to help optimise data usage                                                                                             

The City of Vallejo authorities, in California, are hoping to use technology to strengthen public security and improve residents’ quality of life. Sergeant Brenton Garrick highlighted this goal during the recent 2015 Code For America conference in Oakland, California. Set up in 2009, the primary mission of the CfA organisation is to draw on information and communication technology so as to make US citizens’ lives easier. Sergeant Garrick, who is in charge of Community Engagement in Vallejo, stressed the need to “develop more tools to help share information between residents and police officers.” To meet this need, City Hall has established a partnership with CfA to develop tools designed to build trust between Vallejo residents and the police. Teams from Code for America will be working together with local police officers to develop two digital applications. The first will allow residents to inform the police about potential problems, while the second will enable the local authorities to inform residents about police services they might wish to use. As part of the package, data analysis will be used to help prevent crime. The basic aim is to increase contact and interaction between the forces of law and order and city residents, so as to increase people’s confidence in their police force.

Echange entre policiers et Code for America

       Collaborative workshops for police officers and CfA experts now up and running

However, if not handled properly, data overload and a lack of expertise in information processing can actually turn out to be counter-productive for crime prevention and the detection of new threats. Many organisations are not yet able to interpret the masses of data they collect. So police departments and security agencies now need to ensure they bring on board the right people with the right skills in order to help them draw up strategies that will enable them to get the most out of the available data.

By Charlène Voltat