Mark Ricketts | Using new technologies to fight crime
"Violence increasingly mutates and spreads; and increases in criminal presence and violent crime reduce economic diversification, increase sector concentration, and diminish economic complexity."
- Viridiana Rios
It is exciting that we have private companies in Jamaica, whether by themselves or in partnership with overseas interests, that are capable of delivering a range of high-tech solutions for dealing with crime and violence.
A major problem, however, is that Government is either not sufficiently committed to prioritising the levels of capital budget expenditures needed to spend in this critical area of crime reduction, or it finds itself between a rock and a hard place in effectively allocating limited resources to so many high-demand areas, such as national security, justice, health, education, and interest payments on its gargantuan debt.
Beyond the problems of adequate resource allocation to national security for combating crime and violence, local high-tech firms are disappointed that some of their innovative and state-of-the-art submissions they have made to Government remain in limbo for what seems to be forever.
This drag on Government ever responding, along with the pressing need for much greater expenditure in dealing with crime and violence, must be front and centre if we are going to finally make a statement that enough is enough.
Can do much better
As a society, Jamaica has to go high-tech in fighting crime. To achieve our goal of crime reduction, our police need new-generation technologies and tools. Today, it is possible to do a much better job than we are currently doing in containing crime by identifying criminals in the early stages and putting in place systems that would prevent them from avoiding scrutiny. This requires us having an integrated master database that captures information from all sources.
It also requires us building dynamic models and patterns that automatically generate leads, provide traceable information, and point police in the right direction for prevention and identification of crimes and criminals.
Digital data is a vital tool for proactive, intelligence-driven law enforcement. To take advantage of the volume of available information that currently exists, police officers should be empowered with actionable information (intelligence) so that they can perform effectively the duties they are assigned in crime detection, investigation and prevention.
Just thinking about the volume of databases of information pertinent to crime fighting that are currently available, Douglas Halsall, chairman, Advanced Integrated Systems (AIS), is excited about the potential for success.
"The data exist in disparate information systems, platforms and technologies, and these databases are dispersed across various government ministries, departments, agencies, and private-sector companies, including our own. Different databases can be linked through modern technology, thereby simplifying integration."
The images enrolled in the databases run the gamut of births and deaths, of voter registration information, of criminal-justice data on offenders, traffic-violation data, insurance data, and the list could go on and on.
These images and activities can be recognised using technologies such as facial-detection software, pulling images from Internet protocol cameras, webcams, URLs and scanned pictures.
Halsall said: "Once we integrate and harness these diverse sources of data in a clearly structured fashion, this will significantly boost our crime-fighting strategies and achieve better outcomes than we are experiencing at the moment."
The big benefit in retrieving data from disparate data services today is that there are many tools, like Web-Services, that can simplify the task. The police, for example, should be able to access data when they are out on assignment through their mobiles or tablets. These data-access solutions will enable them to do their job more effectively and in a much shorter time frame. While the technology is available to get information such as the amount of tickets issued to a driver, or whether his or her registration and/or insurance are current, and if there are any pending cases against the driver, it is not yet widely used in Jamaica.
Halsall, in recognising the huge potential in this area and in our country seriously addressing the issues of crime and violence, is emphatic when he says, "A smartphone carried by the police in the field could access databases through a single app, thus garnering up-to-date information on any vehicle and driver.
"Even before approaching a vehicle or driver, dangerous criminals and other violators of the law would not end up getting away with a mere traffic ticket. But all this is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are so many more advanced technology and initiatives," Halsall added.
To understand the step-by-step process that occurs in this example, the police on assignment with a smartphone enter the driver's name, and with all the various databases talking to each other, relevant and pertinent information, if there is any, comes scrolling across the screen.
For this to happen, as the AIS chairman reaffirms, "There needs to be data sharing with both the public and private sectors. Such an initiative would define standards and guidelines around the structure of data and data sharing."
Specific technologies and tools that are not being widely used at this time include closed-circuit television (CCTV) and other surveillance solutions like Surveillance Camera Monitoring Centre (SCMC) to deter crime and facilitate the identification of offenders.
In many jurisdictions overseas, CCTV evidence is often very compelling, and its availability can serve to increase the likelihood of a guilty plea with consequent savings in court time and cost.
An exciting array of high-tech crime fighting solutions is being developed by CTRI-IT, a technological research and development company. Its CEO, Dominic Allen, is, however, very disappointed at the non-existent pace of Government's response to its product and service offerings. As an example, for more than a year and a half, everything has been in limbo regarding his firm's application for traffic police/vehicle inspectors.
Allen says, "It's called ROVR Police Ticketing System. ROVR - Remote Operator for Vehicle Recognition - is designed to flag expired vehicle documents and provide alerts, such as restricted driver insurance policies, or provide alerts as well for drivers with records or prior tickets. It then guides the police officer as to appropriate actions to take."
With several cutting-edge security solutions in his company's arsenal (more of which we will report in next Sunday's column), Allen says as a country, we simply cannot continue to fall behind in dealing with crime and violence.
It is obvious we must have a much more robust capital budget geared towards technology, and we have to build an integrated master database that captures and records the evidence-based criminal activities and traffic citations and violations.
A point of some satisfaction for tech guru Doug Halsall is that there are local IT companies and their partners who can move aggressively in this area so that the country can come to grips with its depressing cycle of crime and violence.
In all this, we must remember that the IMF has put crime as the number one retardant to meaningful and sustained growth.
- Mark Ricketts, economist, author and lecturer living in California, was chief economist of the Vancouver Board of Trade in Canada; deputy chairman of the Jamaica Stock Exchange; and assistant editor of the Financial Post, Canada's largest financial weekly newspaper. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.