As a means to analyze crime, Big Data has proven to be both a blessing and a curse for law enforcement. On the one hand, when properly used within the bounds of the law, Big Data provides unprecedented predictive powers for stopping crime.

Knowing where a murder will take place before it happens via analysis of cell phone use, for example, is one of the greatest advantages a police department can have in protecting citizens. Conversely, so much information is being created via social media and other communication networks that finding or predicting crime can be a “needle in a haystack” proposition, with officers searching through stacks of information for a key piece of evidence.

With its ups and downs, here are just a few ways that Big Data is changing the way police approach crime prevention.

How communities are benefiting from Big Data in law enforcement

Big Data primarily works as a method of preventing crimes before they occur. When criminals communicate their intentions to commit violent crimes, police officers can make arrests well before something bad happens.

With the rise of programs such as PredPol, which uses predictive information to prevent crimes within certain regions based on past activities, communities are kept safer through the use of statistics and high technology.

Communities growing safer

This preventive ability has a direct effect on communities in several different ways. Fewer criminals on the streets not only means less crime, it also means other criminals will think twice before committing or organizing crimes.

In addition, crime is often an exponential phenomenon, built layer upon layer, by boss over henchman. In other words, when there are fewer criminals to conduct crimes, the overall crime tally goes down because criminals do not have other syndicates to compete with or fight against.

If a crack-cocaine dealer no longer has suppliers, for example, he cannot sell crack or commit violence against rivals. Like the “many-headed Hydra” of myth, much of organized crime is best solved by attacking its roots instead of its ends.

With legal monitoring of communications between criminals, those roots can be more readily found and neutralized through arrests and trials.

New technologies bring new legal issues

Beyond these issues is the question of how law enforcement should cope with the analysis of so much new information without adequate legal precedents as guidelines. Privacy laws were mostly created before the days of cell phones and social media accounts, Lines are often blurred when it comes to legally obtaining information for crime prevention while keeping the rights of others in mind.

Does a public Facebook account, available to be read by a police officer, constitute an item protected by privacy law? Is a crime bragged about on Twitter usable in court? What about the Facebook account of a criminal’s friend who is innocent of any crime, but contains information on the criminal?

Many see the separation between public and private life steadily disappearing, and the borders are more vague. As it becomes ever easier to acquire information on suspects, police officers must balance the benefits of Big Data for solving crime with the privacy rights of individuals.

In conclusion, though, many communities may decide their neighborhoods will be safer if they make use of Big Data and other technological innovations.

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