Location-based crime busting
Geographic data helps police solve crimes quicker and even deter them
As one of the most costly cities in the world for renters, London was overrun with “rogue landlords” — people who illegally rented out garden sheds as makeshift housing to immigrants and low-income individuals. These squalid conditions were not safe, especially for children, but police had trouble identifying where the so-called “beds in sheds” were located in the city.
“You couldn’t see them from the roadside,” explains Richard Rollins, Director of Global Product Marketing – Location Intelligence for Pitney Bowes, who consulted on the situation. “They couldn’t be seen from above. No one knew where to find them.”
London authorities took a clever approach to uncovering the unlawful landlords: They used Location Intelligence, the process of visualising data by location. Two sensors were attached to the bottom of an aircraft flown around an area of the city. One sensor captured thermal imagery — heat sources that wouldn’t normally be inside a shed in London unless a person was in it. A second sensor created highly accurate 3D images of the landscape the plane flew over.
Fused together, these two data sets provided police with an actual map of the “beds in sheds” that blighted the city. In one borough alone, the Location Intelligence initiative identified some 6,000 illegal dwellings — 10 times more than authorities had expected to find.
Crime Data by Location
Location Intelligence is giving police departments around the world many new ways to quickly identify, respond to, and even predict and prevent crimes.
Most crime data is associated with a location, such as a street address or postcode. This information can be placed in databases and combined with non-geographic data for further analysis using powerful analytics software. Analysing crime data in this way allows police departments to identify connections within massive data sets that provide insights about criminal activity that are not obvious to human beings looking at the same data. The information can be represented in any number of ways, such as a heat map outlining a high number of burglaries or assaults that occur within a six-block radius of certain bars or nightclubs between 10 p.m. and midnight. Or metal theft on a rail network that regularly happens when maintenance is scheduled.
“This is great information to have on a spreadsheet, but when you look at it on a map it gives you a better ability to see patterns,” says Joe Francica, Managing Director of Geospatial Industry Solutions for Pitney Bowes. “By visualising the data in new ways, you can see that a burglary at a store is related to a break-in at a home, which may not be obvious if the information is confined to a written report.”
Crime Data Imagery Advances
These new ways to visualise data are being coupled with new ways to gather data, as the thermal imagery that helped identify the “beds in sheds” attests.
“Police have come a long way from the traditional pin mapping, where they would literally just put different colour pins onto a wall map to try to figure out crimes,” says Gregory Elmes, a professor of geography at West Virginia University and co-editor of Forensic GIS: The Role of Geospatial Technologies for Investigating Crime and Providing Evidence. “They are using a synthesis of new types of data streams, such as census data and high-resolution satellite imagery, to come up with a richer view of the community so they can overlay incidents for enforcement and prevention.”
Some police departments are totally digitised, so when police officers arrive at the scene of a crime, GPS automatically records their location, instantly relaying all the information collected to central control. By collecting and analysing data hour by hour, incidents can be addressed more quickly.
“When shift officers report for duty each day, they can have immediate access to the incidents on their beat,” Elmes says. “Police departments are saving an enormous amount of time and flattening their hierarchies to improve the exchange of information.”
‘Smarter’ Cops on Safer Streets
Location Intelligence data can be applied in many ways to make police forces more efficient, an imperative at a time when many municipal budgets are decreasing. “Policing is a very geographically oriented business,” Francica says. “Defining precincts, putting more cops on the streets, optimising resources — these are all location decisions.”
Location Intelligence can uncover crime patterns that guide a police force on how officers should patrol their beat or where a bomb squad should be situated to respond more quickly to future incidents. If a large number of officers is needed to respond to an incident, Location Intelligence data can determine what areas of the city those additional officers should be taken from, without exposing the areas they are leaving to more crime because of their absence.
Another benefit: Cities can calculate the effect lighting had on criminal activity by collecting data on the height and location of street lamps. In other words, Location Intelligence can quite literally shine a bright light on crime and make streets safer for everyone.