GIS technology offers a complete system for agile law enforcement, combining data intelligence, mobile capabilities and integrating legacy networks with the latest technology.
In a rapidly evolving digital world, criminals have become extremely adept at exploiting cyber technologies, not just to commit crimes, but also to escape detection and conceal their activities.
The use of highly decentralised networks allows them to quickly adapt to countermeasures and helps them disband when threatened, only to reappear in new locations and guises to resume their illegal operations. This, coupled with an advanced ability to collaborate and share information with other each other, has led to a new breed of criminal that is stronger and more agile than any other era.
Governments around Australia have recognised this and placed the need for developing an agile police force front and centre in their various ICT strategies. The WA government, for example, have declared that frontline police be “supported with fast, mobile access to all the contextual information they need about a person’s case, circumstances or needs in order to provide enhanced, quality services that meet community expectations”.
Geographic Information System (GIS) technology is crucial in enabling agility by providing the police force with greater situational awareness and actionable insight.
The technology provides understanding into the patterns of and correlations between crimes, criminals and victims. It is a highly powerful visual tool for decision-makers across departments and services.
Despite the value of GIS becoming more widely understood in the law enforcement community, in meetings with representatives from agencies across Australia – and overseas – I consistently face several surprisingly common misconceptions about their capacity to adopt the technology.
One of these is underestimating just how effective GIS technology is in integrating data from existing systems and external sources. In my discussions with agencies, many are quickly hung up on the plethora of data they hold and the multitude of formats it is kept in. There is a real fear that bringing in GIS will require the replacement of legacy or perceived non-conforming systems in an expensive and time-consuming overhaul.
Invariably I’m quick to point out that what they see as one of GIS technology’s greatest weaknesses is actually one of its inherent strengths. GIS does not replace the process of collecting and storing information in a database, it enhances the agency’s ability to use this data.
GIS is a complete system for law enforcement. It's affordable, scalable and fits into existing IT. It provides the foundation to integrate the various systems, databases, and data types that every agency possesses.
From a policing perspective, this means that real-time data from CCTVs, body and dash sensors, and other external sources - such as social services organisations, social media, and community engagement apps – can be easily integrated to build a complete picture of crime in a location and use it to optimise police resources.
Having the ability to collect massive amounts of information from various sources is mission-critical for law enforcers, however decision-makers need to ensure both their operations and technology are strategically aligned so that no time is wasted in responding to a crime or terror attack.
The capability to automatically consume the data into a GIS platform assists law enforcement agencies in mobilising resources based on location and prioritise based upon critical infrastructure threats.
GIS technology is another solution to the big data problem. The technology can absorb a seemingly infinite amount of data, allowing users to visualise it in a way that cuts through the minutiae, highlighting actionable intelligence. Seeing spatially enabled big data on a map allows law officers to answer age old questions and identify new ones. What types of crimes are being committed? Where are they happening? When are incidents occurring? Where are our patrols during these peaks in criminal activity? Geographic thinking adds a new dimension to big data problem solving and helps make sense of big data.
Isolation is also often cited by law enforcement decision-makers as a barrier to GIS adoption. At the heart of this misconception is the belief that the technology requires constant network and internet access to be useful. The argument is that when police are active away from their station or base in a rural or remote location – where these services are unavailable – GIS is useless. This completely overlooks the power of GIS as a stand-alone system. The reality is no community is too remote to benefit from the advantages of the technology.
Mobile GIS can extend capabilities from the station to remote locations using tools as simple as a smartphone.
By caching data on mobile devices, officers have access to critical intelligence in the field, no matter where they are and regardless of connectivity. But it’s also a two-way street. GIS-enabled mobile devices allow officers to collect and store data offline via user-friendly apps and digital forms that ensure the information provided is relevant, consistent and accurate.
When officers return to a connected environment, this information is immediately uploaded to a central system. No lost notes, no missed intelligence. Given some of Australia’s sparsely-located police forces and stations, GIS mobile capabilities could deliver powerful benefits.
Amidst an increasing complexity of crimes and threats, Australia’s law enforcement agencies must become equally agile or they run the risk of being ill-equipped to keep communities safe.
Agility is no longer an option. It is a necessity.
Facing the misconceptions that form unnecessary barriers to game-changing technologies such as GIS is critical in building an agile law enforcement sector that can meet a criminal world that is constantly looking for the upper hand.
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