Crime fighting with big data weapons

Old-style gangsters Modern day criminals are not so easy to identify and have to be tracked using new data tools

In the 19th Century, Italian physician Cesare Lombroso won fame for claiming to be able to identify criminals by their looks.

Technology of Business

For Lombroso, a sloping forehead, large ears, very long arms and any one of a host of other physical characteristics pointed toward their owner's in-born propensity for a life lived on the wrong side of the law.

If only it were that easy to spot the bad guys. Now, it takes a great deal more effort to spot both the crime and the criminal.

But big data is helping in a big way.

Pre-crime?

Publicly shared information combined with data from local authorities, social services and intelligence gathered by beat officers is helping police forces around the world spot trouble before it starts.

It's not quite the "pre-crime" scenario featured in the 2002 science fiction film Minority Report, but it's getting close.

Former policeman Shaun Hipgrave, now a security consultant at IBM, said: "It's about using big data and analytics in a smarter way. You are just giving them access to information that they never used to have before."

Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg in front of Minority Report poster The 2002 film Minority Report starring Tom Cruise and directed by Steven Spielberg (right) featured the idea of "pre-crime" - arresting people before they commit offences

It helps the police be much less reactive, he said, and slowly starts to reveal the real trouble spots and troublemakers in a neighbourhood, estate or street.

When information like that becomes clear, the police can do something about it long before anyone dials 999. And that counts for people as much as it does for pubs or clubs.

The data analytics software links up with government initiatives on so-called "troubled families" that can be the nexus of a lot of problems in some towns and cities.

Start Quote

Our research found that criminals are using guns and bullets as a form of currency”

End Quote Prof Babak Akhgar Sheffield Hallam University

Spotting people who are orbiting those groups can help head off any future problems.

"When you use big data you can see the relationships between one family and another troubled family and you see the absences from school," he said. "It creates a fuller, holistic picture."

"This is ultimately about crime prevention," said Mr Hipgrave, "and part of that is knowing more about a community and seeing ways to change the architecture of it."

Gun crime

Big data analytics is also increasingly important in the fight against cross-border crime.

When police were investigating the shooting of Jill Dando in 1999, much time and effort went in to tracing the history of the bullet that killed her, said Babak Akhgar, professor of informatics at Sheffield Hallam University.

At that time, detectives had to call police forces in other countries individually to find information about the bullet and the type of gun that might have fired it.

It was a huge task and one that would only have got more difficult as gun crime evolved, said Prof Akhgar.

"This type of crime now has a very specific multinational element to it," he said. "Our research found that criminals are using guns and bullets as a form of currency."

Firearms slide from Interpol video Interpol uses big data analytics to track gun usage across Europe

As a result, he said, weapons and their ammunition regularly cross borders and pass through the hands of many dedicated and serious criminals.

Analytics and a database called Odyssey mean information about when which weapon was used, and what was fired, is now much easier to come by.

Big data was essential to that project because of the wide variety of data types police forces in different European nations use to classify weapons, ammunition, the type of crime, as well as the criminals themselves.

Sex abuse

The inherently multinational nature of another serious crime, the sexual abuse of children, is also being tackled with the help of analytical tools that have to deal with a vast dataset made up of still images, video, HTML and text.

The problem here, said Johann Hoffman of image forensics firm NetClean, is the sheer amount of data involved.

Typically, police forces are confronted with gigabytes and sometimes terabytes of data when they arrest a paedophile or raid someone who runs a service that trades in images of child sex abuse.

Lombroso museum in Turin Cesare Lombroso, whose work is preserved in this Turin museum, thought criminal proclivities revealed themselves in the shape of people's skulls

"The amount of data is constantly growing," said Mr Hoffman. "The problem is, how as a police officer do you go through that huge amount of data? When you are dealing with terabytes there's no way a human could ever go through it all."

The situation is complicated by the fact that images and videos of abuse are widely traded. Without big data analytics police officers could spend a lot of time literally retracing the steps of other forces that have already worked out who was behind one set of images or who they depict.

A cross-European project is helping police forces spot the novel material more quickly, said Mr Hoffman, adding that the analysis has led to a series of successes against abusers.

"The numbers are not lying," he said. "They are rescuing more people and solving more cases."

'Cash for crash'

Data analytics is also being used to spot anomalous patterns of behaviour to combat financial fraud.

Durham police shut down a "cash for crash" scam which involved an organised crime group defrauding insurance companies by claiming several times for the same accident. Many of the accidents were thought to be staged just to generate a claim.

Smart man in handcuffs White-collar criminals can be spotted using behavioural data analysis

There were so many accidents that insurance premiums in and around the area were forced far above the national average.

The analytics was put to work on about 1,800 incidents and quickly identified the core group of dodgy claims. The operation resulted in the arrest of 70 people who received sentences of up to four years in jail.

In another example, Nationwide Building Society managed to reduce fraud losses by 75% using SAS software, says David Parsons, head of fraud analytics.

"We now have huge amounts of data and can look at any number of parameters to help us spot anomalous behaviour," he says. "And the speed with which we can do this is phenomenal."

But Hitesh Patel, forensic investigations partner at KPMG, warns: "With the volume of data doubling every two years, financial fraud is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

"We're just running to stand still at the moment."

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories

RSS

BBC Business Live

  1.  
    PUBLIC SECTOR FINANCES 10:22:

    For the last couple of months the Treasury has been arguing that public sector borrowing will settle down as the year progresses. It is also expecting a bumper start to 2015. It says a lot of tax receipts will be back-loaded into the financial year because more people are self-employed now. So while public borrowing looks like it will overshoot the Chancellor's target right now it will ease up later in the year and look more like hitting that target by just after Christmas. Hopefully.

     
  2.  
    FRENCH ECONOMY 10:06:

    French business activity was stagnant in August, the latest Markit purchasing managers index shows. But in fact that's an improvement as in July it contracted. The index shows activity in the manufacturing and services sectors climbed to 50 in August from 49.4 July. So not quite growth - as 50 separates growth contraction so technically "growth" needs to be 50.1 - but things may be getting marginally better in the eurozone's second-largest economy. Markit itself says France is stabilising at least.

     
  3.  
    PUBLIC SECTOR FINANCES 09:52:

    Usually, public finances for July show a surplus due to tax payments, but this year the Office for National Statistics says the government had to borrow £200m in the month. That's still quite a bit down on July last year when the government had to borrow about £1bn but economists had been expecting a surplus - albeit a tiny one - of £50m.

     
  4.  
    RETAIL SALES 09:39:

    British retail sales grew in July at a slower pace than forecast, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. Retail sales volumes rose 0.1% in July compared to June and 2.6% growth was seen year-on-year.

     
  5.  
    PUBLIC SECTOR FINANCES Breaking News

    Public sector net borrowing for April to July was £32.4bn compared with £23bn for the same period a year earlier, official figures show.

     
  6.  
    AIR BERLIN PROFIT 09:26:

    Air Berlin, Germany's second-biggest airline, said it returned to profit in the second quarter, up 8.6m euros compared with a loss of 38m euros a year before. It also promised a restructuring programme later this year, which it will describe in September.

     
  7.  
    CHINA MANUFACTURING 09:07:
    Workers in a manufacturing plant in Chengdu

    China's manufacturing growth slowed last month, indicating a recovery in the world's second-largest economy has yet to fully take hold, HSBC said. The Purchasing Managers' Index fell to 50.3 in August from July's 18-month high of 51.7.

     
  8.  
    GIVE PEACE A CHANCE 08:53: World Service

    On the BBC World Service's Newsday, reporter Tony Bonsignore has just interviewed Sir Richard Branson, who along with 15 other global business leaders has written an open letter to governments urging them to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine. The conflict has led to bans on everything from French pears to German sausages in Russia in response to Western sanctions. Branson said people in Russia, Ukraine and the West are "incredibly sad that after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when so much hope was taking place, we seemed to be reverting to a cold war situation".

     
  9.  
    MARKET UPDATE 08:38:

    European markets are flat as investors await economic data due out later this morning. They are looking for indicators as to the health of the eurozone with many wondering how much longer it will be before the European Central Bank is pushed into launching quantitative easing. The biggest rise on the FTSE 100 so far today is Schroders which is up 0.86% to 2,350.00p.

     
  10.  
    JACKSON HOLE 08:23: BBC Radio 4

    More from Pippa Malmgrem. She says central banks want to argue over inflation. In the developed world, there isn't enough of it and in emerging markets there's too much. So the debate, she says, will be about whether "we keep our foot on the gas pedal with all the free money or should we start to take it away?" She suggests the data is behind what is really going on in western economies, particularly on wage rises and that inflation is already a problem for emerging markets.

     
  11.  
  12.  
    MOTORING ON 08:07:
    Nissan working on the Qashqai

    Almost 8 out of 10 cars built in the UK is exported to another part of the world - who said we don't export anything these days? That's according to the latest data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). It adds 5m cars have been made and shipped out of the UK since 2010, which is the best performance of any decade.

     
  13.  
    CHARITY GIVING 07:53: Radio 5 live

    "People aren't motivated by the tax element," of giving to charity, says Anne-Marie Huby of JustGiving. Charities qualify for a number of tax exemptions and reliefs on income and capital gains, and on profits for some activities.

     
  14.  
    CHARITY GIVING 07:40: Radio 5 live

    Anne-Marie Huby, co-founder of charity donation company JustGiving, is on Wake Up to Money talking about which is the most generous town in Britain. It's Bedford. She's not sure which is the tightest, though.

     
  15.  
    SAGE OF OMAHA FINED 07:26:
    Warren Buffett

    Proof that we are all human comes from the FT this morning, which reports that Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway has been fined nearly $1m (£603,319) by the US Department of Justice for allegedly breaching reporting requirements when building a stake in a construction supplies company. In fairness, it's basically pocket change to a man like Buffett.

     
  16.  
    WH SMITH 07:11:
    A man walks past a WH Smith store

    WH Smith said its high street business delivered a "good performance" for the year to the end of August. It publishes full results on 16 October. It expects earnings to meet analyst forecasts.

     
  17.  
    JACKSON HOLE 07:00: BBC Radio 4

    It's that time of year when central bank policymakers come to together to discuss interest rates, inflation general world economic matters - otherwise known as Jackson Hole. Pippa Malmgrem a former advisor to President Bush on all things economic tells Today this year's meeting could be more interesting than previous years because the private sector - the banks which have been the main beneficiaries of monetary policy in recent years - have been uninvited. That, she says, is because the central banks want to have an argument and want to do it behind closed doors.

     
  18.  
    BANK OF AMERICA FINE 06:45: BBC Radio 4

    Colin McLean of SVM Asset Management tells the Today programme that an expected fine for US bank, Bank of America, will be paid half in cash and half in customer redress. There have been rumours for days that the matter with US regulators is about to be settled, he says. We're awaiting the official announcement today. The fine is expected to be the biggest in corporate history but McLean says: "Nobody wants to put the banks out of business. They really want to draw a line under this, so this does that and will let them move forward."

     
  19.  
    INTEREST RATES 06:29: Radio 5 live

    "It's normal for there to be a slight difference of view," economist Marian Bell, a former Monetary Policy Committee member tells Wake Up to Money following yesterday's minutes on the interest rate decision. Two people wanted to hike the rate from its record low. "I agree wage growth is muted... it's not an argument for not moving interest rates to a more normal setting." She'd increase it by one eighth of a percentage point.

     
  20.  
    BALFOUR MERGER 06:17: Radio 5 live

    Colin McLean of SVM Asset Management is on Wake Up to Money talking about building firms Carillion and Balfour Beatty's will-they-won't-they merger talks. Balfour rejected another offer yesterday. "It may not be the end of it," he says. "It just depends the way people are approached... These things don't ever die".

     
  21.  
    CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENTS 06:05: Radio 5 live

    Andy Milligan, a brand consultant, is on 5 live. How come some celebrity endorsements do well and some fail? "When it goes wrong there's a problem with credibility," he says. "In some cases we've never heard of them." George Foreman and his grill worked well because boxers want to eat healthy protein, he says.

     
  22.  
    06:01: Howard Mustoe Business reporter

    Morning! Get in touch with us via email: bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or on twitter @BBCBusiness.

     
  23.  
    06:00: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Morning folks. So what's new? Well, the Labour party is pledging this morning to give the energy regulator greater powers, while the US Federal Reserve has warned there is more slack in the labour market than first thought. We have public borrowing figures out later, while interest rates are still being discussed following the release of the Bank of England minutes yesterday. Stay with us - there'll be more.

     

Features

  • Baby being handed overFraught world

    The legal confusion over UK surrogate births


  • Bad resultsBlame game

    The best excuses to use when exam results don't make the grade


  • Welsh flagDragon's den

    Why Wales will make its own mind up on independence


  • BKS IyengarFlexible guru

    The man who helped bring yoga to the West


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.