‘Technology worthless without right personnel’

Investing in the most up-to-date technology is worthless if police are not employing analysts to exploit it, delegates at a conference have been told.

Ryan Prox (pictured), responsible for the analytics programme at Vancouver Police, told visitors at the British Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (BAPCO) conference that a high ratio of analysts to regular officers was partly responsible for his force becoming one of the most technologically advanced police departments in Canada.

“You can have the best technology, but if you don’t have the correctly trained people you won’t get anywhere and vice-versa,” he said.

“We have 1,500 sworn officers and 30 analysts – the highest ratio in the country.”

Earlier this year, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) raised concerns about the National Crime Agency’s “limited analytical capability” and the uncertainty over the number of people who can actually carry out the role.

Mr Prox added that Vancouver’s approach to policing changed following failures in a high-profile murder case.

“The case of Robert Pickton – who murdered more than 80 women – was the impetus for us to change,” he said.

“We were constantly apologising for what we had or hadn’t done. From it, we found that our systems were not communicating with each other. Retrospectively we had all the answers but we just hadn’t put them together.”

Success using analytics in solving the case of a prolific child sex offender in 2010 has been the basis of their work, he added.

“Someone was stopping and abusing young children aged between six and 14 on their way home from school and we knew we had to find him,” he said.

“We spent ages trying to find out who this man was – we had joint forces working on it, had no match on 561 known sex offenders. But it wasn’t until we put our analysts on the case that we caught him within five weeks.

“Now we plug in analytics all the time and we have been constantly evolving from this initial success.”

The force is now leading the way in terms of predictive policing, anticipating when and where crime will happen within a short time frame of 8-12 hours.

“It really is the stuff of science fiction,” he said.

“And what is key, is that we then display this data on officers’ mobile terminals. They can then self-deploy because of the data they have, such as increasing patrols in a particular area.

“It is about cultivating an intelligence-led environment and empowering officers to be proactive by giving them analytics.”

The predictions are based on a wide-range of data, including light data showing how many people are home in a neighbourhood at one time, social media trends and economic deprivation.

And he added that the next generation of officers coming through should be seen as a great opportunity for forces to get ahead of the curve in terms of technology.

“Ten years ago I had a boss who had to get his secretary to print out his email because he couldn’t use Outlook. That has completely changed. Now we have extremely advanced tech-savvy managers and most importantly officers from a generation where they are weaned on their ipads from birth and can change the way we look at things.

“They expect to come into policing and see we are more advanced than the rest of the public but the opposite is still true, and that needs to be changed.”

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