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Policing in the Era of Big Data

NCJ Number
Annual Review of Criminology Volume: 1 Dated: September 2017
Date Published
September 2017
19 pages

This article reviews what "Big Data" means for policing, discusses the technologies that make Big Data possible, describes how police departments are putting Big Data to use, and assesses how close law enforcement is coming to the vision offered by the 1967 President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, which urged the rapid adoption of information technology so as to improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and fairness of the criminal justice system. 


"Big Data" is a loose description for the general concept of integrating large data sets from multiple sources for the purpose of delivering some new, useful insight from those data. This article discusses the three "Vs" of Big Data: volume, velocity, and variety. Police are experiencing all three of these. Data volume is the magnitude of the data police collect and store. Regarding velocity, the combination of technological advances in economical storage and high-speed wireless networks means data transfer at high velocity. Regarding variety, the ability to store and transmit Big Data enables police to access a wide variety of new data sources. These features of Big Data, if used effectively, can improve the fairness and quality of policing. Notable applications of Big Data by police are predictive policing, tracking police locations, recording video, and measuring performance. The nature and prospects of these uses of Big Data are discussed in this article. Following this, concerns about police surveillance and the disparate impact of Big Data use are discussed. The article concludes with a projection of future research directions for Big Data and its use by law enforcement agencies. 86 references

Date Published: September 1, 2017