Innovation ‘key pillar’ in crime prevention

Industry analysts believe effective crime prevention in the 21st century will “depend on data analytics and technological innovation” – and Durham Constabulary’s decision to adopt ‘artificial intelligence’ (AI) to assess suspects’ likelihood of reoffending is a significant step in embracing this.

Jun 7, 2017
By Paul Jacques

Industry analysts believe effective crime prevention in the 21st century will “depend on data analytics and technological innovation” – and Durham Constabulary’s decision to adopt ‘artificial intelligence’ (AI) to assess suspects’ likelihood of reoffending is a significant step in embracing this.

The force is preparing to trial an AI system to help officers decide whether or not to keep a suspect in custody.

It will use a Harm Assessment Risk Tool (Hart) to help determine if a suspect can be released from detention, based on the probability of offending once free.

Hart – developed in conjunction with the Centre for Evidence-based Policing at the University of Cambridge – predicts offender ‘dangerousness’ and classifies them into high, moderate, or low-risk groups.

Data for the system has been taken from force records between 2008 and 2012.

It was first tested in 2013 and results monitored against reoffending cases over the next two years.

The university says it had an accuracy rate of 98 per cent for predicting suspects were low risk.

The groups are forecast in terms of their likelihood over the next 24 months of committing a serious offence (high), non-serious offence (moderate) or no offence (low).

By classifying offenders at the entry point to the criminal justice system, the constabulary can tailor its decision to the ‘dangerousness’ of the offender, leading to more consistent processing of suspects.

Industry representative body techUK says the use of data analytics and AI to help inform police decision-making is in line with the Home office’s “aspirations” outlined in last year’s Modern Crime Prevention Strategy.

It says the strategy “acknowledges that better use of data and technology is one of the key pillars of effective modern crime prevention in the digital age”, and outlines the Government’s role in “stripping away barriers to the effective use of data and data analytics, and helping others exploit new and existing technology to prevent crime”.

Henry Rex, techUK’s programme manager for justice and emergency services, welcomed the Hart trial and said: “It’s pleasing to see that government and police forces are starting to embrace in earnest the fact that effective crime prevention in the 21st century will depend on data analytics and technological innovation.

“Tools such as this that assist police officers in their decision-making will not only lead to better informed decisions and better outcomes, but, in a time of budgetary constraints, will improve efficiency and allow for police resources to be more effectively deployed.”

Professor Lawrence Sherman, director of the Centre for Evidence-based Policing, who was involved in Hart’s development, has said that it could be used in various cases – such as when deciding whether to keep a suspect in custody for a few more hours, whether to release them on bail before a charge or, after a charge has been made, whether to remand them in custody.

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