Smart mapping, other big-data tools help fight crime

Smart mapping, other big-data tools help fight crime
Esri Global Law Enforcement Industry Manager John Beck at Marina Bay Sands on 15 April 2015. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong
Published: 11:53 PM, April 15, 2015
Updated: 12:51 AM, April 16, 2015

SINGAPORE — When tweets of a fight breaking out during a San Francisco 49ers’ game last year started circulating, the Santa Clara Police Department was able to pinpoint the victim’s location in the stadium, as well as take the suspects into custody, all within three minutes.

The swift response was owed to a “smart mapping” platform the police had adopted, known as Geographic Information System (GIS) technology. It allows information aggregated from various data sources, such as security cameras and social media feeds, to be plotted on a map, helping officers collate and make sense of what is happening.

Besides being an important tool for law enforcement agencies to react and respond to cases of public safety, GIS technology can be used in areas of supply chain security and cybersecurity, said Mr John Beck of Esri, a supplier of such systems. He was speaking to TODAY on the sidelines of the INTERPOL World trade event that ends tomorrow (April 16).

The technology is already being tested in Singapore. The Safe City Test Bed, for instance, was started last year by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Economic Development Board to test advanced technologies, including GIS, that improve capabilities to maintain public safety.

In response to TODAY’s queries, an MHA spokesperson said more details about the next phase of the test bed will be announced later this year and give opportunities for collaboration with the industry.

Agencies such as the National Environment Agency (NEA) also use smart mapping for dengue prevention and control efforts, said Esri Singapore chief executive officer Thomas Pramotedham. For instance, the NEA aggregates data, such as rainfall and humidity levels in various parts of Singapore, to determine the risk of mosquito breeding.

Singtel subsidiary NCS, which was at INTERPOL World, also has smart policing technology that is based on criminal historical trends, such as where and when certain crimes were committed. There are two sets of data under the technology: Those collected by the police and not shared publicly, and external data, such as weather and population demographics.

NCS associate director of analytics Clifton Phua said both sets of data are combined and can be used to predict specific crime types, such as loan shark harassment and bicycle thefts. “The system can help police forces understand where crime types are most likely to occur and plan their resources accordingly,” said Dr Phua.

Asked about other emerging technologies that can help in crime-fighting, Mr Pramotedham pointed to location analytics — collecting data from the movement of individuals holding smart devices. Location analytics goes “beyond the ability to plot points on a map”, he said.

“It’s about sophisticated spatial analytics that allows decision makers to look at their data in an entirely new perspective, giving them richer context that static reports and spreadsheets cannot provide,” he added.