Interview: Social-enabled policing is the 'next wave'

From the Boston marathon bombing to the England riots, Oracle's Hong-Eng Koh explains how community policing can work in the age of social media

Hong-Eng Koh, senior director and global lead of justice and public safety within Oracle’s division focusing on the public sector, started as a police officer and even served as IT head of the police force in Singapore for a short while. Digging into his experience with police work and understanding of trends on a global scale, he makes the case for social-enabled policing (SEP) in this interview with ComputerWorld NZ.

Q: Can you give a sketch of the global justice and public safety team and solutions within Oracle?

Hong-Eng Koh: Before Oracle I was at Sun Microsystems where I was doing a similar role covering justice and public safety. I ended up in the job due to my police background.

In Oracle, over the last seven years, we have been aggressively developing new products and at the same time acquiring new capabilities, and because of that we have got a whole stack of different technologies.

In Oracle there are about 1000 subject matter experts. And of that around 100 of us reports to the senior VP handling the public sector. Under that you go into very fine segmentations and niches.

Public sector is not one industry. It is very complicated so we go into different specialist areas. And in each of these areas we have a team of people. Most of them are like myself, coming out from the industry and have been former CIOs of the agency they handled.

My focus is on justice and public safety, and the team with me is around 8 people. Many people don’t realise that Oracle has a bunch of people like us. Our role is to meet the customers within Oracle. We are the ones who are supposed to do a lot of research, and our background definitely helps to understand the trends affecting our segment, the challenges and best practices. With that knowledge we design different solutions with Oracle products.

We do have six different solutions within the justice and public safety team.

The first focus areas for the solutions is policing. That is end-to-end policing. Typically, you might have 20 different vertical systems within any police department. So it is difficult to execute end-to-end policing. Don’t believe what you see in CSI. It shows the same person going to the crime scene, and then interrogating and then doing research. Typically you have different specialist branches and because of that police departments tend to use technology based on how they are organised. We have a policing solution that provides them a common platform.

The second solution area is judiciary. Once you have enough evidence, you go to the attorney general or prosecutor, you decide whether to charge a person in court. Then you do the filing of the case, the clerk will do a court scheduling, the case management, and then you have the defence counsel’s side of things. For this we have a complete platform.

The third solution is an end-to-end prison solution. We have a complete platform to handle everything from the moment someone is committed to a prison. Those three solution sets are related.

The fourth area is immigration and border control. The fifth area is for mega-events. We have been doing very well in Brazil with the solution, because the Olympics are coming up, and also of the FIFA World Cup this year. We have been doing very well with some of the customers there, and the Rio de Janeiro police is a major customer.

The sixth area, which is very important in supporting the other five is the intelligence hub and alerts. The intelligence hub takes in all data, structured and unstructured. It can be traditional financial, criminal and travel records, or it could be social media feeds and video surveillance. We can put them together and do different layers of filtering to help look for and detect evidence, whether to prevent crime or solve it.

Hong-Eng Koh, senior director and global lead of justice and public safety within Oracle’s division focusing on the public sector.
Hong-Eng Koh, senior director and global lead of justice and public safety within Oracle’s division focusing on the public sector.

Q: What are the global trends you are seeing in policing and technology?

HEK: Public sector is fragmented. Within that, justice and public safety is the most fragmented of the sub-segments. You are talking about licensing, compliance and fire safety regulations, talking about law enforcement and policing, talking about judiciary and emergency management.

The last two years the major threat and opportunity that we have seen emerge is social media.

As a threat, you have to look at the herding effect. You have things like rumour mongering, which can spread like wildfire. Especially ones related to religion, which is a very sensitive subject. And that effect can sometimes lead to flash mobs.

Different cities and countries might have different laws, but there will be cases where flash mobs or the gathering of a massive number of people is an offence by itself. Even when that is not the case, chances are that flash mobs may lead to physical incidences, because of group psychology.

Individuals can be very timid, very mild, but the moment you put a group together they can do a lot of harm. Flash mobs can lead to looting as well. It is very common. This is where the police is very concerned.

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The other thing that we are coming across is crime sourcing. This terms is getting more popular among the police. Crowd sourcing can be used to do a lot of good things. But the criminals, from organised crime to paedophiles, are using the same tools. They don’t know each other, but they use technology to do crime-sourcing. You will find this very commonly in the cyber crime area.

The next wave of policing is SEP. That is not just about technology or networking. For me it is a bit like going back to community policing, in the age of social networking.

It is kind of scary and interesting at the same time. And also because of technology we are seeing organisations, whether it is Bikeys in Australia or Yakusa in Japan or the Triads in Chaina, tend to collaborate. In the old days, they usually didn’t trust each other.

The other thing that we have noticed is gamification. In the private world it is good to have gamification. But we are seeing the same thing in the criminal world as well. People treat it as a game, and show off that I am doing this or that better.

New Zealand Roast Busters to me is a form of gamification. The youngsters who were going around having sex with under age women and then shaming them on Facebook and Twitter. Why were they doing that? What is the psychological thinking behind it? It is gamification.

There is also the element of social engineering and this is a big concern from the cyber perspective.

All of the above are threats to public safety, and to some extent public security. But they are also good things.

For one, the ability of people to use social media can be used in rescue measures. Take the Chinese Sichuan earthquake last year. A lot of infrastructure was destroyed during the earthquake. Many people were totally out of contact. But the good thing was that cell phones were working. And they were using a microblogs (in China Facebook and Twitter are not used) to do something like real-time tweeting to let people know where they were and how they were. And because of that rescuers were able to reach out to them.

The second good thing is social-enabled policing (SEP). This is a new term.

If you look at community policing it started in the 18th century. Sir Robert Peel set up the London Metropolitan Police. He is the forefather of modern policing. He focused a lot on community policing. The whole idea is that the police are part of the community. That was how it started.

But somewhere along the line things changed, and people started not trusting the police and there came along many negative connotations. One reason for is because policing is very reactive.

Who can be a willing customer of the police? Nobody is. Something bad has already happened, you might be a victim. So there is a bad connotation.

It didn’t help when in the '70s people started talking about problem-oriented policing. The idea turns to focus on the problem, to focus on the crime and how to solve it.

In the '90s, people started talking about intelligence-led policing. That is about using information and analytics. But intelligence-led policing also resulted in fears of a big brother.

The next wave of policing is SEP. That is not just about technology or networking. For me it is a bit like going back to community policing, in the age of social networking.

The key difference lies in the behaviour of the police department. Going back to the England riots of 2011. By then most police departments in the country, including the London Metropolitan Police force, had a presence on social media. But what were they tweeting? Curfew on, stay home, don’t do this, don’t do that. Such authoritative language does not go with the nature of the age of social networking.

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Social networking is not just a collaboration and communication platform. It is a lot of trust and behaviour. Some of the other smaller police departments in the country were more down to earth, very cordial with the society and that resulted in better outcomes.

Let us take the Boston marathon bombings. Many people claimed in the press that CCTV helped to identify the two brothers. It is not that simple.

I met the former Boston commissioner of police. He retired recently. He met me probably less than a year before the actual Boston marathon attack. He was interested in social media. He wanted to engage the community and look at different tools.

Before the attack, the Boston PD had already spent a whole lot of time building trust with the community. When the bombing happened, the Boston PD asked for help on their Twitter feed, in a very cordial fashion.

They asked for whatever videos and photos that were taken at the marathon. Consequently many people responded with videos and photos. Many photos that you see in the press and Internet of the two brothers were not from the public CCTV. They were from the citizens.

My point is that if you didn't build this good will before an incident, do you think people would of helped you? It is about behaviour, not about technology. Sincere, open, collaborative, interested, authentic, likeable behaviour should be practised, so more people will come forward to share information.

Engagement and trust are very important. At the same time, it is important to do the monitoring as well. It is not just one way. You are monitoring and you are also responding.

In SEP, the PD can tap into technologies, but it is ultimately about your behaviour, and about listening to what’s happening out there. If people witness a bomb explosion or bank robbery, chances are they are not going to call your emergency line. Chances are they are going to take a photograph and tweet about it. This is why listening is important.

It is also important because bad guys are practising gamification, they are bragging about what they are doing. We also have evidence that organised crime units are communicating openly by using code words. If you are looking simply at things on the surface, you will never pick up such things.

Q: Like most global firms, public sector organisations have to constantly do more with less. How do you think they can achieve this into the future?

HEK: Oracle provides the capability to engage and listen to the community while looking for code words.

The intelligence hub solution can even be of service provided by a trusted party. Some countries are looking at G cloud – government cloud, and some of these government clouds could be used by different departments. For example, if you have a platform for listening and making sense of code words, it’s not just police that would need that. Maybe the tax department or city councils might need it too. All you need is a different ontology, or the knowledge to interpret code words.

It could be a ‘wedding’; to represent a bomb. It could be local slang to stand for a location, traffic jams or accidents. That is relevant to smart city people.

Oracle has the technology to manage such ontology. To save money, a lot of solutions that we talk about can be a cloud service, and that could be shared among agencies.

Our policing solution also offers some cost saving.

Unfortunately, the local police, the responders, criminal investigators, the ops department, the intelligence department, they are looking at a person from different angles. To achieve SEP, the police must have 360 degree view of any person. It must be people focused.

Our policing platform allows that, from end-to-end, even before you are a customer of the policing department to one day if you become a victim of a crime, or another day you are witness to a crime. So we have a consistent view of you. That’s important because this is like customer service, and having a CRM.

In terms of cost saving, the policing platform allows different police functions to reside on a common platform or a single solution. But this is not an easy achievement. This is a multi-year project.

The National Finnish Police had a consultant do a review of their technology about five years ago. They discovered they had over 100 systems internally. And 93 per cent of their IT budget was used to maintain this legacy system. Every year only 7 per cent to think of innovation and new systems.

They went through a major transformation, almost after the consulting study, and review. And they became our key customer for the integrated policing platform solution. It’s a common platform now. The moment somebody makes the first information report, investigations are started, people are called for interviews, evidence is recovered and managed, suspects are managed and arrests are made, briefs are prepared and sent to the prosecution – everything is now on one platform.

This solution is very flexible, and allows you to configure changes, rather than build a whole new workflow or a new data model. This solution helped them save a lot of money.

There are several customers who have adopted this approach with our solution. The key reason is not cost, the key reason is to enable people focus. But because of this architecture you also help them save a lot of money.

This platform can also be a service. For a country like US, police departments can be small, some 10 to 20 officers. They could potentially be offered at a county level and individual city police will subscribe to this as sort of a private cloud.

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Q: How does the single platform tie into social media, and the move from being reactive to being proactive?

HEK: The intelligence hub allows us to tap into all data sources. That is the one that will tell you something may be happening. From the police point of view, my response would be to quickly despatch officers, to see whether I can mitigate it before it becomes a major incident.

Unfortunately, if something did happen or crime did occur then data from there would move onto the policing platform for it to initiate the investigation process.

Financial transactions, past criminal record, travel records – all of this are very reliable data. But the moment you look at social media, you have rumours and sarcasm. If you monitor that you are going to get a lot of false positives. And your operational users are not going to like that.

So our intelligence hub actually has four layers of filtering. We use different technologies. We use events recognition, we use ontology based semantic analysis, and master data management. Those layers help us zoom in on the signal within all that noise. We are even able to cut through re-tweeting and re-blogging.

For example, we were able to zoom into a particular tweet where someone put up a photo of a child being abused sexually. We were able to zoom into people with positive emotions after a particular school shooting in the US.

With this solution we are able to zoom in quickly on the date, time and location of the incident, because of the filtering. We are also able to do sentiment analysis, which is important for SEP, and understand whether your community is happy or not happy.

NZ police is the first police force to issue iPhones to every police officer, and that’s important. SEP means that you are always in touch. You need to be always connected, so mobile policing is important to support that.

Q: From your perspective, how does the NZ Police fare in their SEP practices and solutions?

HEK: I am pretty impressed by them. I met them a couple of times. People focus is very important with the NZ police. It is good that they are looking at different angles, including a common platform for all these things. It might take some time but they already have determination. That’s important.

NZ police is the first police force to issue iPhones to every police officer, and that’s important. SEP means that you are always in touch. You need to be always connected, so mobile policing is important to support that. They might not coin it under the term of SEP but the fact is that they want to have a people focus.

Based on the manifesto that I have read, they don’t focus much on the social media aspect, which I think is important to them. They might be doing a bit of Twitter, but you can have a more structured program to do SEP. In a structured program, you would [look at] elements of how you engage, how you listen, how you react, how you collaborate. That is important and mobility is a major tool for that. So they have done a great job by giving those iPhones.

I think they have made a great decision by having a commercially available device. From my experience, specialised mobile terminals can became very costly to maintain, and the technology cannot be sustained. The iPhone is widely available. There are many apps for it, and there will be more. So it is good that they decided on a commercially available device.

Some police departments might be concerned about the security of the device. As part of our solution, we emphasise a lot on security because the data and contents that we deal with are very sensitive. With our solution, you can learn the typical behaviour of an officer. We will learn that when you wake up you reach for your phone, you check messages, email and then go to office and use laptop to work in office.

For example, at 4pm you go to Starbucks and you use the iPad there. We will learn your behaviour, the device, the time and the location. If one day you don’t follow the pattern, the AI-based identity management solution can block you. This is a great asset, especially in cases where the device gets stolen.

Our intelligence hub is also being used by some agencies to monitor the behaviour of the officers within the organisation. It looks for anomalies and patterns.

This is all meta-data. It is not the actual content itself.

The NZ police’s HR system is Oralce, but not the rest. We are in conversations with them regarding other prospects, but we really like the way they look at policing.

In Australiawe work with the AFP, the state police, and Victoria state’s emergency management. Our intelligence hub is being used to discover causes of fires, the hot spots and then analyse them. So its uses go beyond just criminals and terrorists.

Q: What is the market for these solutions in emerging countries?

HEK: In emerging markets they don’t have legacy systems. It is much easier for them to adopt. There is no luggage to hold them back. At the same time, budget is a major concern. Some of them can’t even afford enough police officers, let alone technology. This is why we are working closely with some international organisations. I cannot name them. We are trying to work out with them how we can offer these solutions as a cloud service with these organisations.

Oracle would be happy to do that. But because we are a commercial entity some of these organisations might not be keen on using our cloud service. This is why we are approaching these international organisations, for them to become the trusted provider. They will use our technologies and the same solution sets that we design, and offer it as a service to some of these developing countries and law enforcement agencies. That is looking promising.

A few Latin American countries have funding from the US government so they invest in a lot of technology. Both Mexico and Columbia are huge Oracle customers. They have impressed me in terms of using technology to prevent and detect major incidents, related to crime, drugs or terrorism.