Cracking down on crime with data visualisation

Seeing the big picture of data is key in driving crime prevention and intervention according to Pete Snelling, principal technical consultant with the global public security team at the business analytics and intelligence specialist SAS.

May 28, 2015
By Paul Jacques
Head of Counter Terrorism Policing Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, speaking at a Commons Home Affairs Committee meeting on Counter-extremism.

Seeing the big picture of data is key in driving crime prevention and intervention according to Pete Snelling, principal technical consultant with the global public security team at the business analytics and intelligence specialist SAS.

With law enforcement agencies across the globe now making more intensive use of data visualisation technologies, he says police forces using systems that provide real-time views of locations, layered with crime, traffic, geospatial, weather and other data, can make decisions based on solid, robust data and resources allocated accordingly to guide intervention and crime prevention.

Writing in the SAS Intelligence Quarterly, Mr Snelling says the data held by agencies is the key to seeing this big picture and overcoming the challenge of detecting and preventing crime in an increasingly complex criminal environment.

“But too much data can have an adverse effect,” he warns. “Data is already proliferating and much of it is unstructured (text-based) and therefore hard to manage and exploit.”

Without the ability to visualise the big picture, Mr Snelling says critical information can go unseen, leading to incorrect decisions or no action at all.

“This, in turn, can put public safety at risk. Data visualisation addresses this by providing a single environment to access, visualise, search and analyse the data,” he added.

“This approach allows you to quickly find answers to key questions within your big data. It also helps you spot trends and interpret visual patterns in data, regularly develop multi-format tactical and strategic reports and allocate resources effectively to guide prevention and intervention.

“Visual analytics complements the approach, enabling police to dig deeper into the data, uncover hidden opportunities, identify key relationships and make faster, more accurate decisions.”

Mr Snelling says that with visual analytics, tactical and strategic reports can be rapidly created for executive briefings using data taken from a wide variety of sources and delivered in multiple formats, including web and mobile-based platforms.

“In addition to the straightforward view of the data police have traditionally relied on for investigations, visual analytics helps them see the more complex relationships in the data,” says Mr Snelling. “For example, it can help understand if there is a correlation between an increase in drug offences and the way you are deploying officers.”

Visual analytics can also be deployed to help police achieve wider benefits for society, says Mr Snelling: “For example, motor vehicle crashes cost the US an estimated $300 billion each year, and in human terms the cost is much greater. Police can use visual analytics to uncover crash causes or identify accident blackspots so that potentially lifesaving changes can be made.”

He says it is critical that visual analytics also drives self-service: “IT departments may be feeling the squeeze, but visual analytics is intuitive and supports a self-service approach, enabling police to create their own visual reports without help from IT.”

Data visualisation technology can bring benefits to almost everyone within the police force – and benefits extend into the wider community, explains Mr Snelling.

“The more police are able to see the big picture, the higher the likelihood of crime getting solved quickly. Momentum is now building behind the concept,” he said.

“The public increasingly expects this kind of approach, and agencies are shifting their focus from solving crime to preventing it.”

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