DISC powers new national database for identifying travelling offenders

  • First national network for identifying travelling, prolific shoplifters;
  • Links 40+ local crime reduction partnerships around the UK; comprises 25,000+ offenders;
  • Secure, DPA-compliant, powerful – yet easy to use;
  • Accessible only by administrators of properly certified crime reduction partnerships;
  • National network joins a growing number of police force-wide Data Sharing Groups:
  • London/Met, Cheshire, Thames Valley, Sussex, Devon & Cornwall, Avon & Somerset, West Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, Hampshire and more…
  • Challenge to police: ‘dare to share’.

Littoralis Limited is working with members of the National Association of Business Crime Partnerships (NABCP) to create a national information-sharing network. The system, based on Littoralis’ DISC online partnership management system, will help identify travelling, prolific and professional shoplifters and teams around the UK.

DISC is by far the most widely used system of its kind in the UK, implemented in more than 140 crime reduction partnerships, covering 260+ towns and city-centres. The new ‘Data Sharing Group’ will enable the administrators of those partnerships which are NABCP members to interrogate each other’s data to find close matches to any of their own local offenders.

All participating NABCP partnerships are accredited with the national standard, the Safer Business Accreditation, and work within the Data Protection Act; the NABCP Data Sharing Group itself will operate in strict compliance with the DPA:

  • Administrators all have a ‘legitimate interest’ in processing personal data relating to local offenders;
  • Processing offenders’ personal data falls under the DPA’s ‘Crime & Taxation’ exemption, relieving Administrators of complying with specific elements of the DPA relating to the recording and sharing of data;
  • Administrators can only seek matches against individual offenders in their own databases; ‘fishing’ for personal data is not possible in the Data Sharing Group;
  • Where a possible match has been identified, each administrator must agree to their own satisfaction that the two data items refer to the same individual before agreeing between themselves to share the specific items.

While the immediate beneficiaries of the network are the retailers who make up the membership of the partnerships themselves, police stand to gain too. Indeed, with cuts in personnel requiring greater concentration of resources on more serious crime, police around the UK are increasingly keen to support local groups in the fight against low-level crime and anti-social behaviour. The new network takes this one step further.

While NABCP’s new Data Sharing Group is the first nation-wide network of its kind, it joins a fast-growing number of other, police force-wide DSGs; the first of these, linking crime reduction partnership throughout Hampshire, was announced by Littoralis in April this year and since then others have been deployed across Thames Valley, Sussex, Devon & Cornwall, Avon & Somerset, Cheshire, West Yorkshire and Gloucestershire. The largest, until the launch of the NABCP DSG, was the London/Met-wide DSG linking some 20 London-based partnerships.

The NABCP Data Sharing Group is simple to use: when a participating administrator adds a new offender or incident into their local DISC system they can click on a tool to automatically search the databases of all other participating DISC systems for 'matches'. Once a match has been found, the administrators contact each other through the DISC system, to check that the individual is indeed the same person and, if so, to agree to share that data between themselves.

The simplicity of the system conceals a sophisticated search technique. Says Charlie Newman of Littoralis: "The one-click matching process applies a complex search algorithm across the combined databases, and uses a large number of search criteria. Obviously the offender's name is important - if it's available - but the matching compares build, gender, ethnicity, any other visual characteristics, the type of offences associated with the individuals and any other information that may be available including address, data of birth and so on. Not all this information is always available of course, but the algorithm simply uses everything known about an offender to fetch a list of possible matches, ranked by similarity.

"The beauty of the system is that it doesn't rely on still-unproven automated facial recognition systems which only work tolerably well with clearly-lit, well-defined, full-face images – and most CCTV images are very far from that. The Cross-DISC Data Sharing system simply selects the top-15 best-matches and enables the administrator to visually compare them to see if any of them are, indeed, the same individual.”

The NABCP Data Sharing Group allows only partnership-controlled data to be shared; data supplied under police Information Sharing Agreements is not currently shareable through the DSG. “Going forward, it’s important that police forces agree that their own police-controlled data can be shared through the Data Sharing Group” says Charlie Newman. “We are already discussing ways to accelerate this: we hope to sponsor a conference on the subject, provisionally titled ‘Dare to Share’, in the first quarter of 2017, targeted at all UK police forces' data protection teams”.