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Monday 24 September 2018
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Commentary

The pro-society, big data policing plan

Mark Lyndersay writes a weekly column for the Newsday. 

After another year in which crime has demonstrably been neither challenged nor even tested by those with the authority and responsibility for doing so, perhaps it’s time to stop hoping for an anti-crime plan.

It’s also time to abandon the illusion that Trinidad and Tobago is a wonderful society with a few aberrant criminals racking up remarkable murder tallies.

There are at least two societies active in TT, one committed to all the lovely sentiments that church-going, law abiding citizens are supposed to abide by and another that LOLs at that type of thinking before stuffing a pistol into their cargo pants and going off to demand what they want.

Much of this country, one suspects, lives in the vast gray area between these two extremes.

If TT is weak in its response to crime, it’s because the platitudes of law enforcement have been inexplicably unsupported by sustainable action.

Official responses to hotspot areas have tended to be concessionary, and dangerous accommodations with criminals and opportunists blurring accountability to a startling extreme.

The late Hal Greaves brought a different level of engagement into those spaces, bringing reasoning to street corners and trusting in the value of the civil society he represented.

For reasons that remain unclear, there has never been a formal or sustained embrace of that similar thinking, which would have offered a clearly stated and sustainable alternative to so-called “thug life” and the societal structure that sustains it.

The closest we’ve ever come to a co-ordinated effort at using information as a tool against crime was the Special Anti-Crime Unit (SAUTT), a poorly constituted but well-intentioned effort at creating an effective response to surging criminal activity.

SAUTT did not survive the change in government of 2010 and to date, there has been no equivalent effort at gathering actionable information on crime.

This is less a policing problem than it is a national problem.

In September 2017, Sean O’Brien, Director of Statistics (Ag) at the Central Statistical Office (CSO), in responding to what he described as “misinterpretations” of labour statistics (http://ow.ly/Rxg530hv78C), acknowledged that: “In Trinidad and Tobago the NSS (National Statistical System) is not functioning well, given that many ministries are struggling to prepare the source data at the requisite level of quality.”

The inability of the Ministry of National Security to guide any significant effort at crime management and the apparent haplessness of its action arms to effect any deterrent on illegal activity can all be traced back to the shambles that is TT’s data collection and analysis regimes.

In 2018, it is unconscionable that information gathered in the field by police officers and station reports remain trapped in log books which defy ready access and data circulation.

Data collection and analysis have been front-burner agenda items for years now in other countries (http://ow.ly/aS5630hvJ8d). Artificial intelligence is used to scan masses of surveillance footage in real-time to identify patterns that call for human attention.

The same big data analysis that offers up links to product you’ve just searched for is being retooled to not just see links in activities that signal possible crime, but is being used to predict where crimes are likely to occur.

We’re not at pre-crime predictions yet, but the century is young, though the TT distance from modern policing is intimidating.

An aggressive, results-focused Police Commissioner might want to acknowledge that he needs an administrative and analytical layer to provide actionable intelligence to his soldiers in the field.

The Police Service won’t get the results that citizens expect until it meets today’s crime with the capabilities of modern technology.

Mark Lyndersay is the editor of technewstt.com. An expanded version of this column can be found there.

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