Project Odyssey - tackling gun crime across Europe
SAS' Joanne Taylor describes Project Odyssey a European U Framework 7 funded research project that has worked to understand how to tackle the problem of analysing and matching gun crime and ballistics data taken from disparate heterogenous ballistic systems across Europe.
Media Coverage: Publication: Contingency Today
The main objective of the project was to develop a database through which gun crime data could be shared with relevant stakeholders across Europe and ultimately enable crimes involving the same or similar weapons to be matched.
The system needed to be able to provide common standards across countries and a consistent method of recording data to enable users to look across appropriate databases. At the same time the tools and techniques used for uploading, downloading and sharing data had to be secure and sensitive data kept invisible to certain groups.
The second important technical goal was to allow individual police officers, forensic scientists and other stakeholders to enter new data, and through the use of SAS analytical software gauge whether it is connected to any existing data across Europe, to enter queries with regards to information in their home databases and see if they could find relevant matches across Europe.
The third goal was to look for patterns regarding the kinds of firearms that are being used in crimes across Europe. This would allow a cross-border view of gun crime patterns and answer queries such as: are gun crime patterns in Eastern Europe being replicated in Ireland or are there connections between criminal gangs in the two regions?
Data mining software had a key role to play in discovering patterns and analysing peaks and troughs in the nature of gun crime in different countries. Critically it would enable law enforcement agencies to identify firearms or ammunition that had been associated with other crimes previously and to understand the movement of weapons across Europe.
How it Worked
The SAS software was used throughout the project as part of the back-end project platform to allow SHU, in particular, to carry out intelligent data mining of the data sets.
The software was used to manage data uploads and to mine the data repository looking for patterns and hidden structures. The data mining and knowledge extraction modules need to pre-process the database data in order to extract information for later use.
SAS enabled complex queries to be answered from within the system. Typically, these were at three different levels. An initial query would draw basic parallels between specific gun crimes; a second would query features of those crimes and a third would draw parallels between types of crimes and types of weapons, people or places.
This information helps police identify new routes of enquiry on current cases, addressing new patterns of gun usage and trafficking that are starting to emerge and finally in drawing up strategies such as preventing guns from being manufactured in one country and subsequently being used for gun crime in another.
A key feature in the fight against gun crime is to identify re-use and flow of guns and ammunitions across Europe. Guns often travel with people and as such data mining to highlight these key issues can greatly assist in the efforts of law enforcement agencies. The ability to pinpoint the use of a particular type of weapon or ammunition in crime across Europe can help reveal the source of the arms and ultimately help cut off its supply through police, border security or international political and economic action.
The data mining solution had a key role to play throughout the project in helping extract and identify meaningful data that the team could use to determine an understanding of gun crime in all its forms. Ballistics data that appears to map to similar incidents could be flagged up instantly to show connections between crimes, allowing agencies to share and cross-reference information based on more accurate evidence. Similarly, agents in other geographies could be automatically alerted to matches on gun and bullet signatures so they can build a profile of crime networks in their area.
Looking to the Future
The onward march of globalisation has unfortunately been accompanied by a dramatic increase in organised crime that crosses national borders. It takes many forms and includes murder, genocide, drugs and human trafficking, money laundering and weapons smuggling. These threats undermine the democratic and economic basis of societies so there is an urgent need for countries to work together to keep this type of activity in check.
Cooperation across the European Union is critical in the fight against international criminal activity. Project Odyssey as a research project has demonstrated what could be achieved by introducing data standards and sharing data across borders. Whilst in its current form of a prototype the project has shown that the barrier to achieving an implemented solution is not a technical one. It now needs the political and legislative backing of the European Union to encourage agencies to work together across the union to implement such a solution and turn the research into an operational reality.
Joanne Taylor, director Public Security, SAS