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On to the next one? Using social network data to inform police target prioritization

Sadaf Hashimi (School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers University Newark, Newark, New Jersey, USA)
Martin Bouchard (School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 20 November 2017

Abstract

Purpose

Target prioritization is routinely done among law enforcement agencies, but the criteria to establish which targets will lead to the most crime reduction are neither systematic, nor do they take into account the networks in which offenders are embedded. The purpose of this paper is to propose network capital as a guide for prioritization exercises. The approach simultaneously considers a participant’s network centrality and their crime-affiliated attributes.

Design/methodology/approach

Data on all police interactions are used to map the social networks of two mutually connected police targets from a mid-size city in British Columbia, Canada. Network capital is captured by combining the extent to which individuals act as brokers between otherwise unconnected individuals (betweenness centrality), their number of contacts in the network (degree centrality), and whether they have a criminal record, gang ties, and a firearm carrier status.

Findings

The network comprises 101 associates, with nine mutual contacts amongst the two targets, and half of the network having a crime-affiliated attribute. Network capital directed the prioritization process to seven associates who stood out. Targeting strategies from two different investigative outcomes are compared.

Research limitations/implications

The specific recommendations of the study can only be interpreted within the context of the initial targets around which the network was constructed. As a prioritization approach, however, network capital is generalizable to other contexts with implications for law enforcement officials and, more broadly, the community.

Originality/value

The study provides insights into the practical application of network analysis with already existing police data. Network capital is data driven, which comes with its own limitations, but which constitutes an improvement over purely informal approaches to target prioritization.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the agencies that funded or supported the research.

Citation

Hashimi, S. and Bouchard, M. (2017), "On to the next one? Using social network data to inform police target prioritization", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 40 No. 4, pp. 768-782. https://doi.org/10.1108/PIJPSM-06-2016-0079

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited