How data-driven policing strategies can impact public safety

Analytics and new data sources are opening the door for municipalities to deploy big data policing strategies that potentially can improve emergency response times, a software vendor exec says.

Public safety entities in the U.S. -- in particular, police departments -- are about to get access to a tremendous trove of data. The growing amount of information could enable new data-driven policing strategies that aim at crime prevention and drive public safety operations into the 21st century.

In 2012, Congress created the First Responder Network Authority, known as FirstNet, which is laying the groundwork for a nationwide broadband network connecting all the public safety organizations in the U.S. At the same time, the Next Generation 911 initiative, led in part by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which oversees some aspects of the nation's emergency phone systems, is aimed at enabling more 911 calls to be made over internet protocol. This opens the door to text, image, audio and video data. In short, the data coming into emergency response centers is set to explode.

In this interview, we talk with Rod Guy, vice president of strategy at NICE Public Safety, a unit of software company NICE Ltd. whose technology manages the data captured in 911 call centers and analyzes audio data, allowing them to do incident-driven policing and other types of predictive policing that may help prevent crime. According to Guy, public safety groups have a big opportunity ahead of them when it comes to data-driven policing.

Why should municipalities consider implementing data-driven policing and public safety operations?

Rod Guy: What we see is an evolution of the 911 centers ... having to deal with this big data problem. There are two drivers. One is the evolution to Next Generation 911. In addition to voice calls, they're now going to receive information from callers including text and videos and crash notifications from telematics from vehicles.

The other driver is FirstNet, the creation of the nationwide public safety broadband network. The creation of this network allows all the information to come into the PSAP [public safety answering point], and all the information from the first responders is creating a lot of new problems.

What kind of improvements can public safety operations make when implementing big data and analytics for predictive policing and emergency response?

Guy: The opportunity is improved situational awareness and operational efficiencies by access to more information. And, through data analytics tools, to triage situations and prioritize information and bring out of that information what's most relevant and actionable. There's an opportunity for the call-taker and the first responder to have access to more information in a more timely manner. Inevitably, that's going to lead to better outcomes, better emergency response and, ultimately, more lives saved.

What would be a hypothetical example of analytics in a 911 call center?

Guy: First, there's the enhanced decision-making that can happen when you have more information coming in from multiple sources from Next Gen 911 enabling new data sources -- for example, a crash notification from a vehicle. Today, you get a phone call 15 minutes after an accident happens.

With telematics integration, you get a notification from the vehicle that says not only has there been an accident, but what is the location, did the vehicle roll over, how many people are in the vehicle. It's just a tremendous amount of information available to the call-taker and first responder that can result in lives saved.

Also, there is the ability for analytics to power new insights and improvements in how they handle responses. There's the ability to gain insights from the incident and how it was handled; being able to reconstruct and analyze and identify opportunities for improvement is going to be enhanced when you have this growth in information coming into the center.

With FirstNet, it also creates this opportunity for massive amounts of information coming into a PSAP to make decisions, and that could be from sensors on an officer or sensors around the community. You can image the internet of things now, whether it's biological or chemical sensors or CCTV cameras or [a] firefighter's breathing apparatus; all of the information needs to be captured and analyzed, in real time and after the fact, to learn from what happened.

How ready are public safety operations to embrace data-driven policing and emergency response tactics?

There is a desire and a need and a willingness to leverage analytical tools to improve operations and response.
Rod Guyvice president of strategy, NICE Public Safety

Guy: It's an emerging space, and some are there and others are getting ready. There's definitely an opportunity to do more. There is a desire and a need and a willingness to leverage analytical tools to improve operations and response. That's kind of built into the nature of policing. Whatever can be done to improve response is job one. As these new tools become available and more data sources start coming in, it increases the need for tools to help them deal with it.

We're at the earlier stages because these market shifts are still unfolding. [With] Next Gen 911, we're starting to see more adoption of IP-based call-taking and handling and the information flows that come from that. FirstNet is also in the early stages. So I think there are opportunities for agencies to see it coming and to plan for it and prepare for these new data flows.

How do public safety agencies avoid the perception of Big Brother encroaching into the public space when implementing more data-driven policing strategies?

Guy: In emergency response, the more information a first responder has, it just improves the outcomes. If a caller is limited to making a voice call [now], in the future, the ability for them to also provide a photo or video or text -- those types of things just make the outcome better for everyone involved. I don't think it has those kinds of [privacy] concerns.

It's a discussion and debate that is going on city by city, and every police department works with their community to decide what's needed. What I think of as big data is using information to improve the response, and that helps save property and lives.

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