West Midlands Police adopts cloud and machine learning as part of ‘data-driven policing’ ambitions

Profile picture for user gflood By Gary Flood March 15, 2021 Audio mode
A new Data Driven Insights Project starts to have multiple community benefits, says the West Midlands Police force

Image of police officers in england
(Image by dagmarbendel from Pixabay )

West Midlands Police (WMP) is the second-largest Police Force in the UK, covering the cities of Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton, equivalent to 348 square miles (900 square kilometres). It sees its mission as working to create a safer community for the 2.8 million citizens it serves, preventing crime and helping those in need.

As with any major Police Force, WMP deals with a lot of data, which increases through every interaction it has with the public, from the 2000 emergency calls it receives daily to the work cases officers handle on the streets. This is all now being handled a lot better after work from enterprise data cloud specialists Cloudera working with Accenture, who have created one new core data hub, the Data Driven Insights Project.

Being creative and thinking of new approaches to achieve this is one of its key internal values, its Director of IT and Digital, Helen Davis, believes-and its new ‘Data Driven Insights Project' is a perfect example of just such thinking. Davis also claims that this is a first for UK policing. 

For example, West Midlands Police has hired its own data scientists, data engineers and visualisation specialists so that it can develop its predictive analytics capabilities in-house. The Force may also be the first to set up a bespoke Data Ethics Committee, created, run and managed by the Police and Crime Commissioner. Davis said:

When I joined the Force as a consultant back in 2015, all our data was siloed, spread across different platforms. Having these legacy processes made it difficult to garner the insights we needed from the data we held to improve our strategies to prevent crime.

The intervening years have changed all that, she says, partly down to a forward-thinking Chief Constable's support for digital transformation. Their initial buy-in has opened the door to opportunity to make better, more informed and smarter decisions that have transformed the way in which the entire Force operates, Davis explained.

A single source of truth for all West Midlands Police data

What does this digital transformation look like in practice? Davis said that WMP has moved away from its previous fixed legacy system approach to what she dubs a "cutting-edge", cloud-based model instead. This way, she stated, data can be accessed from anywhere, by anyone with the right permissions, at any time, while the Force can also easily expand data storage as and when needed without having to swap out any crucial information.

As noted, at the heart of the Data Driven Insights Project is a new cloud data hub. This, Davis told diginomica, is now a single source of truth for all data, resulting in a huge improvement in the speed at which the team is able to pull queries. 

Complex data searches can also be conducted far quicker, while requesting information from the database has been crunched down from minutes to just a couple of seconds. If an officer on patrol comes in contact with a previous offender, for example, they have immediate access to all records of criminal activity, and thus are able to respond accordingly, at speed.

The new cloud platform also allowed Davis and her team to implement Insight Search, a custom web and mobile application available to staff and officers with the correct access permissions, whether they're desk-based or out patrolling the streets. This helps frontline peacekeeping by allowing Bobbies on the Beat to get information about a person, or check if a car has been reported stolen, at the touch of a button-which also means they can take the appropriate action in the moment, rather than having to return to the station or make calls back to the office.

Last but absolutely not least, Data Driven Insights has been fundamental in improving West Midland Police's use of intelligence via the use of predictive analytics. Key decision makers in the Constabulary can track and cross reference data from reported incidents through a new Crimes Visual Analytics App, which offers a user-friendly way to identify matches and associations across different crimes using machine learning. 

This way, she noted, WMP can pinpoint among other things a location where crime is more prominent at a particular hour, and so plan patrolling there in a smarter way. Use of machine intelligence is also starting to allow the surfacing of common patterns between incidents that can help it "stop crime before it happens".

Specifically, 15 complex data sources have been integrated into a single search platform, but the plan is to integrate 80. Having all data consolidated in a hub that's accessible from anywhere has had a huge improvement on the speed at which the Force is able to pull information as it responds to incidents, she confirmed, and has already been used to inform over 1.5 million inquiries, at an average of 193,000 queries per month. Davis said:

This allows us to take a more proactive, rather than reactive approach to policing, ultimately increasing the safety of our community. But now that we have a platform that connects every officer in the field, we are able to pinpoint who is closer to the crime scene. Before the Data Driven Insights Project, this was done manually, and meant we lost out on precious time to act and ultimately, save lives.

‘Making smarter decisions to benefit our community'

Another change is that the platform supports access to hundreds of millions of records every 120 minutes, meaning the team has access to constantly updated insights. That's improved speed, she claimed, that has had a direct impact on how well WMP can serve citizens and ensures WMP can continue to build a safer community. Finally, an enhanced Incident Management Performance app helps WMP respond to the two thousand 999 calls it gets on a daily basis with more agility.

Great results, then. But Davis isn't satisfied. She said: d

We're just at the start of our data journey. In the future, we want to continue to grow our data platform and our predictive analytics capabilities. We will continue to scale the platform by adding more data sources, using our search capabilities to its fullest potential and reaping all possible benefits from the technology.

Ultimately, by having this intersection of people and data, we will be making smarter decisions to benefit our community and ensure we are using data correctly.