The vast amount of information that’s freely available to the public online, called open source data, can be both a blessing and a curse for law enforcement agencies. Search engines only index a fraction of the information available online, and the unstructured data that remains can be a rich resource – if it is managed and utilized properly.
On one hand, this information makes it possible to develop critical public safety insights such as crowd patterns during major events, connections between criminal networks, and even potential terrorist activity. By processing unstructured data from open channels such as social media networks, law enforcement agencies can gather actionable intelligence that helps identify trends and make forecasts.
For example, as huge crowds gathered to watch the Olympic torch pass through London last year, law enforcement officials monitored Twitter to see how people gathered, moved and responded within the city. This real-time window into the crowd’s activity allowed officials to quickly identify safety issues and proactively position themselves for situation control. The same type of real-time insight can be extremely useful during natural disasters, when public safety officials are able to tap into social media networks in order to help identify areas in urgent need of assistance.
Open source data can also provide insight that shapes an agency’s reaction to an emerging event. The 2011 London riots were originally thought to be a random act, but open source intelligence revealed that in fact the activities were being organized through social media channels. By tapping into these platforms, law enforcement officials were able to cross-reference this information with maps to predict the timing, location and pattern of the riots and help control disruptions.
Still, finding a way to gather, manage, and analyze this massive volume of information in order data to gain useful intelligence can be an overwhelming burden for agencies whose resources are already stretched thin. Therefore, many organizations are turning to new search and analytical tools to help law enforcement personnel build a dynamic picture that supports back-end system integration and data exchange between public safety and justice agencies. Providing geographic and spatial location-based intelligence information also helps law enforcement agencies manage, coordinate, and improve decision making; identify crime hot spots; plot crime data spatially; and conduct crime pattern analysis investigations. They can also create a dynamic and visual common operational picture of intelligence and investigations for use in police intelligence rooms.
In this demanding, fast-paced environment, organizations must make their operations and processes more coordinated, integrated, and streamlined to keep up with constantly evolving requirements and emerging events. With the right open source intelligence solutions, these agencies can make the vision of data-driven insights and and pinpoint situational awareness for improved citizen safety a reality.