Staying ahead of the criminals

Police forces in the UK could be using artificial intelligence (AI) to help predict the location of muggings and public order offences in cities within the next two years.

The AI system, recently presented to University College London’s Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science has already been used to build a picture of crimefrequency in and around Cardiff.

Deterring or intercepting criminal acts is a difficult task, as many different factors caninfluence when and where certain offences take place.

Police have for some time used a process called crime mapping, where past offences are analysed to help understand the factors influencing them. However it is only recently that advanced computer software capable of predicting crimes with a degree of accuracy have been developed.

The AI system, the subject of a Phd by University of Glamorgan researcher Jonathan Corcoran, uses various data sources, including information from individual South Wales police officers to predict where and when offences are likely to take place.

The type of data analysed is critical to the success of the system, said Corcoran’s tutor Prof Andrew Ware, of the university’s school of computing.

‘The student analysed when past crimes happened, the exact time, the weather, the location, holiday periods, the volume of people in the area and whether or not sporting events were occurring. The AI is good at predicting illegal activity where there is a pattern or volume of, for example, muggings or fights outside pubs in a specific area of the city.’

While officers already know about certain trouble spots, Ware described general intelligence as ‘sparse’. But developing the software to cover a wider range of crimes will require better quality data collation. In particular, details on the exact location of offences is very important and Ware said he would like to see officers carrying GPS technology or personal digital assistants to improve the information available.

The AI system has already been used to identify trouble spots as part of the Safer Cardiff initiative, run by the city council and South Wales police force. This is one of the many ‘safer town’ projects run in the UK.

The use of AI as part of the community initiative led to the setting up of a youth bus which offered education and leisure pursuits advice to local youngsters. The bus, which travels around areas of Cardiff identified as needing particular attention, is aimed at deterring youths from committing crime by providing them with alternatives.

Corcoran will now spend the next two years developing the system into a useable product for police officers nationwide.