Detecting crime using social media

12 August 2015

tab on computer showing Twitter URL

‘World-leading’ predictive tools will be used by Met Police to monitor real-time crime events

Researchers from the Social Data Science Lab have received research grants from the Centre for Scientific and Engineering Excellence at the Metropolitan Police Service and the ESRC Impact Acceleration Fund, to embed their world-leading and internationally recognised research on predictive analytics using social media into police operational processes.

The Lab Directors, Dr. Matthew Williams from the School of Social Sciences and Dr. Pete Burnap from the School of Computer Science & Informatics, have previously developed social media computational predictive models to estimate the emergence of disruptive crime events and the propagation of cyberhate.

Social media is generating high-volume data through multiple forms of online behavior. Estimates put social media membership at approximately 2.5 billion non-unique users.  The data produced by these users have been used to predict elections, movie revenues and even the epicenter of earthquakes.

Project lead Dr. Burnap said: “Previous research that has examined the use of social media data in crime and policing contexts has been based in large metropolitan areas, such as Chicago and San Francisco. London, with its 2.5 million Twitter users, is the ideal city to further develop our social media and policing research using the COSMOS software platform. Social media data can be considered a form of open source intelligence that can assist the police in their real-time decision making practices.

“These new grants will allow us to achieve a measurable impact within the Metropolitan Police Service, embedding our predictive social media models into their operational processes. MPS have kindly agreed to provide access to datasets that will allow us to validate our models against real-world crime incidents.”

Dr. Williams said: “There is a clear need in industry and the public and third sectors for a greater understanding of how these new forms of big social data can be marshaled to add value to existing practices. With the right statistical checks-and-balances in place and guided by criminological theory, social media data can complement and augment conventional police information to estimate crime patterns.

“The Social Data Science Lab is committed to generating world-leading research in the areas of crime, safety and wellbeing to inform a knowledge-base that can be embedded in commercial, policy and practice domains.”

A senior representative from the Metropolitan Police Service, said: “We have valued greatly our engagement with the Social Data Science Lab at Cardiff University to date as they have provided much needed insight into how social media can be exploited for the benefit of security and policing. They have already carried out some extensive research around identifying hate speech and the new project takes this further to develop and critique methodologies and tools for the identification of disruptive events and behavior. We look forward to an innovative future with the Lab”