Violent crimes are skyrocketing across America.

In a recent article, the BBC reported that “across the US, there were 25% more murders recorded in 2020 than the previous year.”

CNN reports that when the FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report for 2020, “the number of homicides increased nearly 30% from 2019, the largest single-year increase the agency has recorded since it began tracking these crimes in the 1960s.

And according to The New York Times, “A sample of 37 cities with data available for the first three months of this year [2021] shows murders up 18 percent relative to the same period last year.”

With statistics like these, keeping officers safe, creating safer communities, and embracing innovations that enable law enforcement to do more with less hardly seems possible. However, answers to the violent crime challenge are emerging.

Cellebrite research lab (photo credit: Cellebrite)

Technology can certainly help law enforcement collect, manage, triage, and analyze digital data to render actionable intelligence. Such intelligence can help take criminals off the streets, but technology is only part of the larger solution that needs to be developed. This includes investments in training, the elimination of siloes within departments, and the encouragement of information sharing. Collaboration across departments and agencies also plays a key role.

Before we can explore solutions to the rise in violent crimes, however, we need to address these fundamental questions:

  • Why are we seeing such a surge in violent crimes?
  • How did our major cities get to this point?
  • How are law enforcement agencies dealing with this surge?
  • How is technology providing solutions to help meet these challenges?

While no one has the definitive answer, there is no doubt that the recent pandemic helped spur the recent surge in violent crimes.

Use the American Rescue Plan Act Take Proactive Fight Against Violent Crimes
Law Enforcement Agency (photo credit: Shutterstock)

What’s Causing The Surge

COVID-19 created massive unemployment, which increased the wealth gap. Large numbers of jobless individuals with too much time on their hands creates a breeding ground for those wishing to do bad things. Illegal activities increase because people feel they can’t get ahead or, in desperate cases, even survive any other way.

Resources were also a problem. Police were greatly disadvantaged as many officers were sidelined by COVID-related health problems. Fewer officers on the street allowed bad actors to step up. Many officers also retired or took jobs in the private sector during the pandemic, adding to understaffing woes and emboldening criminals.

Trends In Policing & Investigations During The COVID-19 Crisis
Law Enforcement Officer Working Remotely (photo credit: Shutterstock)

Finally, budget reductions curbed investment in technology and resources that allow law enforcement to get the necessary information they need to prosecute bad actors and get them off the street. A recent Chicago shooting in broad daylight is a prime example. The shooting was captured on a traffic cam, but the district attorney claimed there was not enough evidence to prosecute.

How Our Major Cities Got to This Point

We are indeed living in unprecedented times. The pandemic changed the way people behave and the way people look at things. This all ties back to the fact that when criminals don’t see crimes being prosecuted, it makes it easier for them to believe they can get away with anything.

frontline officer Cellebrite Frontliner
Law Enforcement Officer (photo credit: Shutterstock)

In addition, things that are helping to improve the public perception of law enforcement officers, like body cams, have also created more scrutiny. And it’s extremely difficult to be a police officer when everything you do is being looked at under a microscope.

Some officers have said that such scrutiny is making them more hesitant to do some of the things they used to do to keep us safe. And that, unfortunately, emboldens criminals. This may not be the deciding factor, but it’s something we’re hearing directly from officers in the field.

How Agencies Are Rising To Meet The Challenge

For a long time, there has been a lack of investment in the technology needed to help law enforcement do a better job, solve more crimes, and be proactive. Public officials who control the funding have not been providing agencies with critical dollars for technology and training.

Discover Flexible Training Options to Build Your Skills and Stay Ahead
Cellebrite Training (photo credit: Cellebrite)

Forward-thinking chiefs, however, are recognizing that in today’s world, when they’re faced with less funding for a number of reasons, the only way they can do more with less is by leveraging technology. We see those forward-thinking chiefs starting to get a little more proactive than what they were a while ago.

Citizens are also realizing that fewer officers, less training, and lowering protection standards for the sake of budgets is not keeping neighborhoods safer. When you look at major cities with big crime problems like New York and Chicago, and even in smaller jurisdictions, it is critical to invest in the right technology, training, and tools, as a force multiplier to your people.

Technology doesn’t replace people. But it enables them to do their job better and more efficiently. And that’s how you bridge that gap.

How Technology Is Helping Solve the Violent Crime Problem

Technology, particularly solutions that provide Digital Intelligence, is a force multiplier when it comes to solving crimes, keeping people safe, and being proactive in crime-fighting. (Digital Intelligence is the data collected and preserved from digital sources and data types [smartphones, computers, and the Cloud] and the process by which agencies collect, review, analyze, manage, and obtain insights from this data to run their investigations more efficiently.)

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Digital Intelligence Ecosystem (photo credit: Cellebrite)

Without Digital Intelligence, you’re really shooting blind. With Digital Intelligence, however, you can see criminal networks and links. That is impossible for many law enforcement agencies to see today because with limited resources in technology, they don’t have the ability to put these links together quickly. You can do it, but it may take months or years.

For example, if you have a gang unit that has been fighting gangs in a particular area for the last five years, they’ve got a treasure chest of digital information that can show them who really leads these networks.

The problem for many agencies, however, is that they don’t have the technology to put all of that together, and no one has the time to do it when they’re fighting another gang shooting, or another gang bust last night. Technology gives us insights and shows us the truth, immediately.

Digital Data Sources (photo credit: Cellebrite)

A common problem among many agencies today is the overwhelming number of digital devices they are taking in during investigations and the mountains of data they create. Technology, particularly advanced analytics solutions, can be a huge help here in automating the process of parsing large volumes of data to find those nuggets of actionable intelligence that can move cases forward faster.

We’ve done studies that say with technology we can reduce the amount of time it takes to get through digital information by a factor of 35 to 1. That’s huge when it comes to solving crimes. We can get criminals off the street faster, we can identify networks that we can’t see otherwise, and that’s what helps keep us safer.

Our customers are also telling us that 95 percent of the violent crime is done by five percent of the population. So what are the chances that this five percent of the population is not connected to one another in some way, shape, or form? Am I in Gang A versus Gang B, or is Gang A working with Gang B on a planned heist? There are networks of people that communicate with each other that you can’t find quickly without digital technology.

There is also the other side of the story that’s not talked about enough, which is how much time is wasted looking at the wrong people, the innocent. We don’t only want to look at inculpatory evidence. We need to examine exculpatory evidence that could also help speed up the investigation.

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Challenges in the Investigative Workflow (photo credit: Cellebrite)

For example, if I can take Suspect A and realize quickly that they were not connected to anybody and not in the location where the violent crime occurred, then I can stop looking at them and realize that they’re not part of this investigation and spend my valuable time elsewhere. Digital Intelligence will expose the truth, no matter what that is. It doesn’t have bias. This is purely factual information that’s being presented, so it’s very, very powerful.

One other factor to consider is that in many law enforcement agencies today, investigations are done in silos, which is highly inefficient. Technology helps break down those silos. If you have police units that solely focus on one crime type—gang crimes, homicides, drug trafficking—you’re likely missing the bigger picture.  Many times, these different criminal actions and actors are interlinked. 

When you leverage Digital Intelligence, however, you can see the connections between those units, and by solving one crime, many times you can help solve many others or stop other crimes from happening. After all, it’s not just about solving the crimes, it’s about getting out in front of the whole violent crime problem. Technology can provide the springboard to do that.  

Perhaps the most important consideration is officer safety. We need to get the bad actors off the streets, but we need to do so in a way that safeguards those that protect us as well.

We need to offer law enforcement officers the technological solutions and training they need to safely:

  1. Collect and preserve data lawfully from the widest range of digital devices and sources, making it accessible to anyone who needs it, the moment they need it.

  2. Review data in formats that are easy to comprehend, targeted, and actionable.

  3. Analyze and process data quickly to find and validate key pieces of digital evidence, surfacing insights to expedite case resolution and time-to-justice.

  4. Manage and safeguard digital evidence in a collaborative way to break down silos, allowing stakeholders to reach maximum efficiency while ensuring privacy and chain of evidence protocols.

And we’re actually failing them when we don’t provide it.

Key Tips To Access Funding To Stop Violent Crimes

Reallocating funds to law enforcement is critical to providing the tools and training officers need to do their jobs and get home safely each night. Through the American Rescue Plan (ARP), the current administration has freed up millions of dollars that have been earmarked specifically for combatting violent crimes, particularly gun violence.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime source of funding for our customers. $1.9 trillion was the total dollar allocation. $350 billion of that was allocated towards state and local… the states, and cities, and counties; not the police and not government.

department treasury
United States Treasury (photo credit: Shutterstock)

Treasury guidance allows state and local governments to purchase technology for law enforcement to more efficiently and effectively respond to the rise in gun violence resulting from the pandemic.

It isn’t random that violent crime is up 30, 40, or 50 percent since 2019. So we need to educate our customers and they need to educate us, so we can work together to go find out how to lobby on their behalf for this funding.

We need to have larger conversations regarding what resources law enforcement needs to be more effective in their jobs. We need to go out and work with our customers to lobby for a full digital solution to better serve their communities.

The great part about the ARP money is that it has already been allocated to the cities, states, and counties, so there’s no need to get a federal grant. It’s not like applying for the COPS grants or the Byrne JAG grants. The money is already with the state of Maryland, or the city of Baltimore, or the county of Baltimore. It’s already there. They just need to make the case internally for distribution.

The important thing for agency managers to remember is that when they request this funding, they must be able to talk about how seeing “the big picture,” by investing in Digital Intelligence solutions and training, is going to help reduce crime. That involves understanding all the challenges at every level in the organization, and at every level in the investigative process, and helping agencies overcome some of the barriers that they create for one another without even knowing it.

In the end, it’s about agencies understanding the need for digital transformation and finding the funding to embrace that need.

(Watch the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Digital Transformation Success Story.)

The End Game

Law enforcement faces tough challenges. Technology has increased dramatically in the past few decades with criminals taking advantage of tech advances every time they can. And they use those dirty dollars to get better technology to commit even more crimes.

We haven’t kept pace with investment in technology the way criminals have, which is one of the big reasons law enforcement is always forced to play defense. Until we get them the technology to fight on a fair playing field with tech-savvy criminals, they’re always going to be at a disadvantage.

Cellebrite Training (photo credit: Cellebrite)

The recent spike in violent crimes is no one’s fault. The technology and training needed to fight these crimes, however, have changed dramatically. To keep up, law enforcement needs to really look at leveraging technology and the SOPs to leverage that technology to help reduce crime, become more transparent, and increase public trust.

About the Authors:

Zach Cohen brings years of sales and management experience at both the national and international level to Cellebrite with a deep and diverse background in mobile services to protect, control, encrypt, and archive electronic communications. His experience working with CEOs and executive teams to transition their businesses for rapid growth has made him pivotal in working with Federal, SLED, and Fortune 500 Organizations that are transitioning their workflows to digital platforms. Mr. Cohen holds a degree in business management from the University of Maryland.

Maurice (Mo) Cook has 33 years of experience in communications, data center management, and presales solutions engineering. Prior to his current five-year tenure at Cellebrite, he served in technical leadership roles at AT&T, Storagetek, Sun Microsystems, and Oracle. In his current role at Cellebrite, Mo focuses on assisting investigative agencies in leveraging the power of artificial intelligence and big data analytics to bring the power of Digital Intelligence efficiency to their investigative workflows.

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