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IBM begs Britain's new top cops: C'mon, set up pre-crime units

Coppers are 'wasting' predictive model tech on beancounting

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England and Wales residents will soon be able to vote in their own local cop chiefs. Police officers in 41 forces across the UK are set to come under the direction of the new officials - elected police and crime commissioners (PCCs) - from next week. And it seems IBM wants to have a word on how the new brooms plan to do their jobs.

British residents - except for Londoners, whose Mayor Boris Johnson also wears a PCC cap - will be able to vote for their "Commish" from 15 November. Among the duties of the new PCCs, as described by the Home Office, is setting police and crime "plans" and working with local authorities to "promote joined-up working".

Stats on crimes and clear-up rates are sure to become an important part of the new way of working, as elected officials try to measure the performance of their plans. PCCs will want to incontrovertible proof their plans are hitting the spot if they are to get re-elected

Also, PCCs are sure to want to compare the performance of their force against others.

Big Blue: Precogs... Who needs 'em?

Enter IBM, which sees the November elections as an opportunity to promote the uptake of its SPSS and I2 analytics software among the forces of Great Britain. IBM bought SPSS for $1.2bn in 2009 and i2 in 2011 for an undisclosed sum.

IBM claims every force in the UK already uses its SPSS statistics module and I2 analyst notebook, but says cops are not exploiting the kit to its full potential when it comes to crime fighting and crime prevention. Instead, they're used by beancounters and for basic statistical analysis.

IBM believe British forces should hit the beat on crime prevention by employing content analysis and predictive modeling using unstructured data - something that comprises 95 per cent of the data police handle in the form of video, written statements, crime reports, media, Tweets - along with the structured stuff. Also, police should be able to draw on data from sources outside of day-to-day policing - groups involved in housing and education.

Ahead of the elections, IBM tells The Reg it's been making "informal contacts" among candidates about using SPSS modules and I2 to anticipate crime and deploy police.

"We are talking to a number of candidates," IBM's global lead for crime analytic Ron Fellows said on a recent visit to IBM's Hursley facility in the UK. "It's a case of seeing what the feeling is among candidates and forces for the increased use of technology."

He reckons social media analytics - analysis of Tweets or Blackberry messenger that helped rioters in 2011 - is the one thing apart from predictive analytics that he gets asked about most by police. Post-riot stats showed word about the violence and disorder had spread on social media three-and-half hours before the police were notified of what was going on.

IBM has already worked with police forces in the US, where elected police commissioners are a way of life, on predictive modelling. Among them, Memphis Police Department in a project with Tennessee University on a project called Blue Crush. Fellows said it had reduced crime by 30 per cent by predicting where a crime would happen.

"The nirvana is real time operations based on real time info - like the military. The vast majority [of forces] are on the bottom rung - still reacting to crime using limited information. They must improve the way they work," Fellows said.

Greater Manchester Police is cited by IBM as one British force that, briefly, attained nirvana. Under retired chief superintendent Keith Bentley, GMP rolled out SPSS and I2 following the 2001 Oldham Riots.

Manchester used spatial analytics and mapped data to other crimes and related offenders. It also used predictive analytics to research cold cases and violent and sexual criminal offences. The force employed SQL searches and looked at spatial and temporal graphs to see how offenders had approached victims - they discovered 29 variables. The result was 12 offenders arrested, two crimes clarified, and eight clusters of other precautions identified that had been missed.

Predictive analysis is all very good for fans of a Minority Report future, but British police won't be able to liberally start upgrading their SPSS modules right after 15 November. The first problem is that off-the-shelf software like SPSS must be bought through the controversial Sprint ii IT procurement framework for public sector, whose only supplier is SCC.

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