In Brief

Future crimes: Scotland Yard tests 'violence prediction' software

System analyses intelligence from social networks and past offences to forecast who will commit crimes in the future

Scotland Yard has been testing software designed to analyse social media, previous convictions and associates connected to known gang members to predict whether they might reoffend.

The software, developed by the global consulting group Accenture, merges data from existing crime reporting and criminal intelligence systems used by the Metropolitan Police. It then carries out predictive calculations.

Police have undertaken a 20-week pilot study using five years’ worth of historic data. There are plans to use live data if the software is eventually deployed.

The pilot used intelligence gathered about gang members in London over a four year period to forecast their likelihood of committing further violent crimes. This was then compared to the real data from the fifth year to test its accuracy.

Muz Janoowalla, head of public safety analytics at Accenture, says the software enables police to target their limited resources against the highest-risk individuals.

The Met already collects intelligence from the internet, such as inflammatory comments made by known gang members, says Janoowalla. "What we were able to do was mine both the intelligence and the known criminal history of individuals to come up with a risk assessment model," he tells theBBC.

He added that the aim was to identify groups of gang members rather than specific individuals. However, the exact criteria on which the software is scored has not been disclosed.

Privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch has called for more transparency about the system, including how the police intend to implement the technology and what type of information will be analysed.

"The police need to be very careful about how they use this kind of technology," said research director Daniel Nesbitt. "Big data solutions such as this can run the risk of unfairly targeting certain groups of people and potentially making them feel stigmatised as a result."

The analytics project is said to be the first of its kind to be used by police in the UK, although the Ministry of Justice already operates a system used to predict the likelihood of different types of released criminals reoffending.

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