March 01, 2017
Legitimately harnessing the power of big data analytics in today’s digitally disrupted age to better protect the citizen
By: James Slessor

Inspired by the technology-enhanced missions of James Bond and the science of CSI, citizens’ expectations of what public safety agencies can deliver often exceed the reality. And as agencies struggle to keep pace with technology innovation and digital disruption, the gap between expectation and reality is widening—nearly one-third of agencies say that citizens are better informed about technology than they are. Yet with the ability to refine, predict, and present analytics and big data could hold the key to success.

Accenture research has shown that a vast majority (89 percent) of users across various industries believe big data will revolutionize operations the same way that the internet did—opening up enormous opportunities for agencies to be better informed and improve decision making. Here is the challenge for public safety agencies: They must identify risk and harm out of a growing volume of data and potential threats—and the way to do that is by using analytics and new data-driven approaches. Being successful requires more than mere adoption; the approach to analytics and big data must be handled in such a way that strengthens, rather than undermines, police legitimacy. It is only with citizens’ consent that police agencies gain access to the opportunity from harnessing such comprehensive data and the powerful insights that analytics can deliver. And the approach must be integrated into an overall public safety or policing operating model that ensures its effective use and engagement with citizens. Without consent, it may become a liability, so it is part of a solution, not the whole solution.

The opportunity is clear: The digital or “smart” city of the future will produce a huge volume of data, if managed and analyzed correctly this can become a precious resource and an asset to better serve citizens and support a public safety mission. In Singapore, advanced analytics has been used in the government’s Safe City program to deliver meaningful insights in real time and across agencies, enabling a fast and informed response.

Big data and managing the accelerating pace of change is also a threat. How to manage the sheer volume, diversity and speed of data goes beyond the processing power of the human brain. It requires agencies to invest in new technology and work practices, policies and processes. Meeting the demands of an increasingly digitally-savvy public is hard to achieve. Citizens expect rapid, personalized services in an “always on” culture, and are equally alive to the potential of the misuse of data as they are to its benefits. The data tsunami is gathering speed, with data terminology moving increasingly from terabytes to yottabytes, and the scope and diversity of big data is becoming even harder to harness.

For the majority of leaders, digital disruption has become an everyday experience. Seventy-one percent of public safety leaders aware of digital technologies, such as analytics and predictive modelling, are piloting or implementing them.

Police forces are marrying increasing data volume, new real-time analytical technology and strategic thinking to develop innovative solutions:

  • London’s Metropolitan Police Service piloted predictive analytics technologies to target gang crime across the city.

  • West Midlands Police is using analytics to understand criminal networks and provide data driven insight into police operations.

  • The Seattle Police Department (SPD) developed a data analytics platform to bring reliable, rapidly accessible data to meet its management and governance objectives. It supports insight-led policing, addresses issues such as use of force and helps police leaders make data-driven decisions.

To make the best use of big data, the public safety agencies must consider:

The human user: The combination of analytics, visualization and common sense must deliver information to the right person in the right way, at the right time, otherwise even the best insight is at risk of being missed, ignored or simply overlooked.

The proactive switch: Process and cultural change are not to be under estimated. Careful thought must be given to the interventions which will follow the insight delivered by analytics and the value and benefit of a data driven approach must be explained and communicated to those who are expected to follow it.

The legitimacy lever: The importance of legitimacy cannot be overstated; the public must be behind a data-driven, proactive policing model and be confident that data will be secure. Moving too quickly risks undermining legitimacy and the main mission to keep citizens safe.

Big data analytics helps the criminal justice system move further toward being data driven and preventative focused—and offers an opportunity to transform public safety. With clear guidance underpinning its use, legitimacy and security, public safety agencies can use big data to emerge from disruption stronger and be better able to protect those they serve.

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