WSU researchers using body cams, biometrics and machine learning to improve policing

July 14, 2017 - 

Criminal justice experts at Washington State University (WSU) are developing new technology comprised of advanced scientific tools and techniques to improve police–community relations, officer training and public safety, according to the university’s website.

Researchers at the university’s new Complex Social Interaction (CSI) laboratory are using body-worn cameras, data analytics, biometrics and machine learning to examine the various factors that influence interactions between police and community members.

The research team, led by David Makin, assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology, is the first group to study police officer decision-making and interpersonal interaction through data analysis from body-worn cameras.

“This cutting-edge research and technology will provide revolutionary insight into police practice as well as real-world applications for improving organizations and decision-making at the individual level,” Makin said.

Additionally, the researchers are using the data to design algorithms and new software to help public safety agencies improve police-community relations, lower conflict, cost and liability, and improve the health and well-being of officers and law enforcement communities, Makin said.

Over the past few months, the lab has examined more than 2,000 police-community interactions and several records from law enforcement incidents to identify, code and catalog key factors relating to a range of outcomes, positive to negative.

These variables include location, lighting, time of day, number of people present, gender, race, verbal and physical stress and intensity of the interaction.

The method combines automated and manual coding to develop more objective and holistic descriptions of police-community interactions than current methods provide, Makin said.

The lab’s preliminary results recently appeared in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency.

Axon (formerly TASER International) is equipping the research team with its latest body-worn camera hardware and software, which will enable them to conduct a range of experiments which examine the factors associated with decision-making and the effectiveness of police training.

“The research that David Makin and his team are doing at WSU is groundbreaking,” said Rick Smith, Axon CEO and founder. “It represents another exciting avenue for body-worn camera usage, potentially leading to the development of tools that will make body-worn camera footage more useful for training and for understanding patterns of behavior. Our core mission is to protect life, which means protecting officers and citizens alike, so we’re thrilled to support researchers like those at CSI who obviously share that mission.”

The CSI lab is funded by a $50,000 WSU Grand Challenges Seed Grant aimed at promoting social justice and an informed and equitable society.

Additionally, the lab received a National Institute of Justice grant to study the impact of legalized marijuana on law enforcement and crime in the United States.

“This is an excellent example of a win-win public-private partnership with potential to generate cost savings for police departments and bring new products to the market,” said Brian Kraft, director of business development for WSU’s College of Arts and Sciences and director of innovation and industrial research engagement for the Office of Research.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.