An ounce of prevention

      It's 3 a.m., and you and a few other officers are on surveillance. The city has been plagued by a rash of hot-prowl burglaries over the past few weeks. The suspect has not been seen, usually because the victims were asleep when the burglary...


   However, McCue reminds that the use of computers alone will not solve U.S. crime problems. Policing, she says, needs to look beyond its traditional framework, and consider technology sharing from sources outside police work.

   Fortunately, the indexing of data among different data sets is straightforward in policing today. Unlike the filing cabinet systems of old, electronically accessing data is easy. Officers can retrieve data virtually, so they don't need to go to a file cabinet to get it.

   And sharing of data among departments is simplified as well. Universal formatting is slowly becoming a non-issue, as the computer industry has adopted standards at many levels and within most disciplines. The Windows XP and Vista platforms are examples of how Microsoft has standardized many aspects of the PC market. Within the justice community, the Global Justice Extensible Markup Language Data Model (GJXDM) has been adopted to ensure agencies can share data among and between data systems.

Determining data access

   The Customer Relationship Management (CRM) industry focuses on predictive behaviors in the consumer industry. This industry has pioneered work with companies like Amazon.com or the local grocery store. When you last logged onto Amazon.com and ordered an item, did you see something to the effect of "other customers who placed similar orders also ordered these items?" At your grocery checkout have you received coupons based on your purchases? The CRM industry is huge, and may be considered an experienced partner in harnessing social sciences to predict human behavior.

   The processes involved in predicting your shopping behavior are the same ones used to determine criminal behavior, just using different data sets, reports McCue along with authors Emily Stone and Teresa Gooch in "Data Mining and Value-added Analysis."

   However, keep in mind that private industry may be able to capture more personal data than a government body such as a police department. This is based on the perception of what police are likely to do with this personal information, so it is tightly regulated. The State of California establishes certain personal data as Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI), and strictly limits access to that data on a "need to know" and a "right to know" basis. The first authorizes access to certain records by statute. The second definition includes information that is required for the performance of official duties, according to the California Department of Justice.

Inputting and sharing data

   Once authority to access data is established, then one must ask how much data exists and who is going to enter it.

   Police and public safety computer data systems should be smart enough to import data already entered once into a computer to eliminate redundant entries. For instance, when a subject is booked then cited out for the same violation, all of the booking data should be "pre-filled" in the fields for a citation entry screen. Then the officer only has to make simple changes to complete the citation.

   On a larger scale, when data collected at one agency is not shared with another, it is both inefficient as well as impractical. Inefficient because personnel costs are a large part of what drives data entry costs and they are limited, expensive and slow. Impractical because "The average company's data storage needs triple every 18 to 24 months, and the worldwide data storage capacity has grown from 283,000 terabytes in 2000 to nearly 5 million terabytes by 2005," according to the GE Global Research report "Holographic Data Storage." With data growth advancing so quickly, only computer systems will have the power to wade through massive amounts of information and help individuals distinguish relevant information from garbage, note McCue, Stone and Gooch.

Problem solving — the new state

   As a group, law enforcement is good at counting its crime data, as evidenced in the annual reports submitted to the FBI by most law enforcement agencies. Departments have become more sophisticated in their approach to technical solutions, and are much better at sharing data using standards like the GJXDM and regional data sharing, as well as deploying field-based technology at a steady rate. Agencies are also more aware of outside technology advances thanks to programs that encourage technology transfer from the private sectors like the CRM industry. However, it is time to start pulling these resources together to move from counting problems to solving them.

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