21st Century CriminalsActively Hiding in our Law Enforcement DatabasesBy Peter E. Merry, CGI National Capital RegionToday, 21st century criminals are leaving an unfettered trail in databases across the globe. When these stores of information remain static and unconnected, police officers and agents are denied a complete, real-time global picture of every individual they come across during routine patrols or investigations. These trails and clues are often discovered and connected after an incident has already occurred.The right technology needs to be in place and a culture shift must occur to solve this challenge. Fortunately, the basic technology exists to help police officers and agents share information across the street or across the globe. The real challenge now is how to break down cultural barriers to make this potential solution a reality.Information BreakdownThe 2002 murders of 10-year-old Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham, Cambridgeshire, England, rocked the small English community to its core. The murders were committed by Ian Huntley, who had been hired less than a year earlier as a caretaker at a nearby secondary school. In the aftermath, it was discovered that a total breakdown in the information-sharing continuum prevented officials from unearthing Huntley’s highly questionable past.They were not aware that Huntley had been accused or suspected of four rapes in the late 1990s, four sexual relationships with underage girls (one only 13), and indecent assault on a 12-year-old girl.A formal inquiry to identify failures in police intelligence gathering and sharing was launched the day after Huntley was found guilty. The resulting report spurred the creation of the Police National Database (PND), a national information-sharing management system intended to safeguard children and vulnerable people; support, disrupt, and investigate terrorism; and prevent and disrupt violent and organized crime. Available to all police forces and select criminal justice agencies (public safety, public protection, environmental protection, and revenue protection) in the United Kingdom, the PND connects over 250 core intelligence systems in order to allow and facilitate law enforcement agencies in the U.K. to access, search, and share local information electronically, effectively overcoming artificial geographic and jurisdictional boundaries. Not only are these agencies successfully using technology, but they are also successfully changing the culture of law enforcement information sharing from “want to share” to “need to share.”While it’s encouraging to hear that the case led to substantive changes in how law enforcement agencies in the U.K. link and share information, those same changes haven’t spread throughout the rest of the global law enforcement community. Despite every country (including Canada) having had its own situations where a lack of ready access to intelligence adversely impacted its law enforcement agencies’ fight against crime and the protection of its communities.Velocity, Variety & VolumeIn the same way that the U.K. PND has continually evolved since inception and will continually evolve for the duration of its existence, any advancement that Canada makes has to be maintained to keep pace with the environment in which it operates. Crime has never been so challenging – law enforcement is fighting a velocity, variety, and volume of criminal use of technology.The 2020 crime survey of England and Wales found 45 per cent of all crime was internet-enabled and cybercrime offences went up 61 per cent in one year. With law enforcement now dealing with threats consistently across the “public-private-online” arena, any new approach to intelligence management has to be aware of the realities that identify:LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES AROUND THE WORLD NEED TO BE ABLE TO REACH INTO DATABASES LIKE THE PND ON A REAL-TIME BASIS TO SEE THE WHOLE PICTURE AND CONNECT THE DOTS.• There is a clear international/ trans-national & cross-border/ non-specific geography dimension of the most serious and harmful threats;• The continual, expansive, and effective exploitation of technology by criminals not only routinely changes the crime landscape, but in doing so, continues to out-pace that of any single local law enforcement agency, adversely impacting their ability to protect, prevent, deter, and detect wrong-doing;• The increasing sophistication of managing the illicit financial proceeds of crime is making identifying, following, and retrieving the money increasingly challenging; and• There is a convergence of criminal activity (thanks to technology-enhanced capabilities and capacities) that is allowing criminals to concurrently operate multiple criminal endeavours with far-reaching and interconnected consequences.Accelerating SharingWhile it’s true the Canadian law enforcement community has become far better at sharing information related to terrorist activities, the same cannot be said for criminal investigations. Unlike the murders in the United Kingdom, it’s not necessary to go back 20 years to find instances where better information sharing between Canadian law enforcement agencies may have prevented heinous criminal activity. One only needs to look at recent tragedies to find events where connecting and sharing data may have helped identify a bad actor and prevented or disrupted criminal activity before a citizen turned into a victim.Law enforcement agencies and social media providers across the globe maintain thousands of disparate databases. Hiding in these databases are nuggets of valuable information, which, if freely shared and connected through technology, could help law enforcement identify criminals and their organizations in real time and possibly disrupt them before a criminal act. Using the example of Ian Huntley, what if he had somehow escaped justice in the United Kingdom and fled to Canada or another country? What other unspeakable crimes could he have committed if he had applied for the same type of caretaker position and local jurisdictions were unaware of his nefarious background? Law enforcement agencies around the world need to be able to reach into databases like the PND on a real-time basis to see the whole picture and connect the dots.While stigmas against sharing information do exist, the advantages are overwhelming. The drivers for change include:• Enhancing public safeguarding and protection;• Preventing and resolving crime;• Delivering new intelligence insights through the use of analytics;• Improving the targeting and prioritizing of operational activities to realize productivity improvements; and• Applying law enforcement best practices and identifying what we already know.Make no mistake: the lack of information sharing between law enforcement agencies is a global problem with global – and potentially tragic – consequences. Therefore, in order to create an environment that’s more conducive to information sharing, the law enforcement community needs to follow a two-step process: (1) create a culture in which information sharing is not just encouraged but expected and rewarded, and (2) work together with industry leaders to create technology to make information sharing easier and less burdensome.Breaking Down Cultural BarriersThe antiquated attitude that local and foreign law enforcement agencies won’t freely share information with each other must go by the wayside – and soon. The global law enforcement community, as a whole, needs to understand that. In order for information to be valuable, it needs to be immediately available to all relevant personnel at all times.Further, law enforcement entities need to operate with an unsaid understanding that those who are entrusted with newfound information will use it only for its intended purpose. Trust is paramount. It is crucial that law enforcement community navigate all the relevant policies and legislation around data privacy and protection. What would help is for lawmakers and the civilian community to come to a consensus on the proverbial “line” when it comes to data collection and use by law enforcement. The community needs to work together to catch today’s criminals because – as it stands – 21st century criminals are not abiding by data privacy and protection laws; they are using technology more effectively than law enforcement is, and they know how to get around the system that’s currently in place.While overcoming cultural roadblocks to information sharing is a fundamental piece to the final puzzle, it can’t be denied that technology also plays a major role. Simply put, technology gone unused is unsuccessful technology. That is why the law enforcement industry also needs a cadre of early technology adopters who are willing to start shaking things up.The problem isn’t necessarily one of technological capability; the same powerful software used to run the PND is available to other jurisdictions. The more complicated issue is the widespread application and acceptance of the technology. Every day, criminals worldwide use technology to their advantage – it is time law enforcement starts to do the same.For the past 11 years, the PND has been powered by an information technology (IT) software solution using commercial off-the-shelf products that offers an efficient and structured means of securely sharing information between agencies and across borders. Currently available as a desktop platform, the technology acts as business intelligence for law enforcement. Its analytical engine connects and consolidates disparate databases, providing law enforcement officers with the information they need at their fingertips.It allows users to input and visualize data sets in a range of meaningful ways, as users are able to perform text and photograph searches across large data sets and combine data in new ways, providing new insights. This wealth of knowledge not only eases the burden of searching the thousands of databases individually, but it also allows law enforcement to make quicker, easier, and more accurate decisions based on all the available information.In short, technology solutions can equate to less time behind a desk and more time in the field. But no technology is a one-size-fits-all solution. The industry needs to work hand-in-hand with law enforcement globally to determine how to develop and implement technologies for long-term success. That starts with all stakeholders aligning on the technological enablement that is truly required.Success Achieved Collectively21st century criminals are committing 21st century crimes, and there’s simply no way that law enforcement can consistently catch them using 20th century methodology. Police officers and public policy officials need to make their voices heard in order to successfully implement new technologies and change the information-sharing culture.Successful technology is neither built nor implemented in a vacuum; law enforcement professionals need to participate in order to break down cultural barriers, develop solutions that will resonate with stakeholders, and bring the maximum benefit to the greatest number of people across the globe.LAW ENFORCEMENT PROFESSIONALS NEED TO PARTICIPATE IN ORDER TO BREAK DOWN CULTURAL BARRIERS, DEVELOP SOLUTIONS THAT WILL RESONATE WITH STAKEHOLDERS, AND BRING THE MAXIMUM BENEFIT TO THE GREATEST NUMBER OF PEOPLE ACROSS THE GLOBE.Recognizing that the Automated Criminal Intelligence Information System (ACIIS) was once a world leader when it came to dealing with 20th century crimes in the 70s & 80s, Canada can once again become world leaders for tackling 21st century crime by looking at what exists, looking at the current and future needs, and building what Canada requires. The key will be not designing it for today but ensuring it is designed and maintained for tomorrow.The principles that led to the development of ACIIS back then still stand firm to this day. However, the landscape and context in which it operates are now fundamentally different. ACIIS’ replacement will require greater partnerships, not just between law enforcement and its public and third sector partners, but also with the private sector specialist supply chain that is required to support and enable it.To paraphrase one of the investigators in the aftermath of the Huntley murders: “…while law enforcement officials can’t eradicate evil, they can make it difficult for evil to thrive.” Championing the use of technology and changing the way law enforcement thinks about sharing information are things the profession can do right now to help turn the tables and give the law enforcement community advantages it’s never before enjoyed.Peter E. Merry is Director (Consulting Services), National Safety, Security & Allied Services, Community Safety & Public Services Sector for CGI National Capital Region [N.C.R.]. He can be reached at p.merry@cgi.com.
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