Digital Detective Sees into Future; Old-Fashioned Policing Techniques and Less Glamorous Initiatives May Help to Cut Crime Rates, but as Steve McCabe Discovers, Technology Can Be Harnessed to Pinpoint Crimes before They Happen
Byline: Steve McCabe
This summer's action blockbuster, Minority Report, asks film audiences to suspend disbelief as Tom Cruise runs a police unit able to predict crime.
Pure science fiction? Not in the West Midlands it isn't. It's happening already. And guess what? The FBI and the CIA are queuing up for a piece of the action.
West Midlands' Chief Constable Sir Edward Crew retires this week, leaving our force at the cutting edge of criminal investigation with high-tech investigatory methods that leave the rest of the world standing.
Little did I realise, until I visited the FLINTS office at West Midlands Police HQ, what well-organised, ordered lives our local criminals lead.
I discovered that, far from running amok and randomly targeting houses and shops for burglary, many of them are totally systematic and as predictable as clockwork.
Take Mr B. He lives in Cradley Heath, but only ever burgles in Brierley Hill. On Tuesdays and Thursdays. Between 10 and 12am. En route to visit his girlfriend.
How do I know this? Because I've seen the Forensic Led Intelligence System (FLINTS) - or the Digital Detective, to give the database its nickname. And boy, does it work.
Developed by local officers and computer programmers, this really is state-of-the-art policing. Little wonder forces across the world, including our friends across the water, are queuing up for access to this amazing IT development.
FLINTS absorbs millions of pieces of evidence, including DNA, into its database and links together criminals, scenes of crime and patterns of criminal behaviour - in seconds. Up to now, this work would have taken weeks or even months to complete.
The genius of the system is that it means, for the first time, that officers can predict where and when crime is likely to take place, enabling them to be ready and waiting with a welcoming committee. …