Last week we had invited representatives of Kharkiv police to have a frank conversation about something very important – maps and geoinformation.
This may seem somewhat confusing. Local law enforcement had never associated with our field. Even right before the interview we had our doubts. The thing that struck us most, though, during our communication with the police was openness and cooperation.
The first surprise in this story came to us last autumn, in October. That’s when we found articles in the media stating that a geoinformation service was created in Kharkiv, police.kh.ua. Anyone can report a crime online on this web site, and also see crime rate in any city district. It was also surprising to learn about the GIS component of the service, as it appeared the latest technologies were used to work the big amounts of information.
The editorial team was really curious about the people behind this service, where the idea came from and how police.kh.ua is used today.
But it was when we met our interviewees when the real amazement came. They in no way looked like typical old times militia, but instead we met talented young men with powerful technical background, analytical skills and a sense of humor. And the most inspiring was their faith that they are doing a very useful work for the society and that big things are achieved by small steps.
Some days later we met our heroes again at a hackathon (1991 Open Data Hackathon | Kharkiv) where they were presenting their RICAS project. It stands for “Realtime intelligence crime analytics system” and police.kh.ua service is actually one of the parts. Their project presentation was recognized as the best.
This was not surprising anymore, as we already had an understanding of the project’s high level. We are pleased to share all the details with our readers.
Olena Achkasova: Please introduce yourselves, tell us what you do, what is your connection to Ricas project and police.kh.ua.
Stanyslav Doskalenko: My name is Stanyslav Doskalenko, I am senior developer at National Police Administration, Informational Support Department, it’s a long name.
Artem Petrusenko: I am Artem Petrusenko, I’m also a developer at the Police Administration. Actually, we have been developing the system together with partner companies in Kharkiv.
OA: Tell us how you got an idea to develop such a system? Why are you involved in the project? Have you got any experience working with geodata or geoinformation?
SD: Initially the idea of creating an analytical system that would work for crime solving, criminal analysis, came to our chief, Dmytro Uzlov. It was quite a long time ago, maybe about 5 years. So it happened that we, about three years ago came to work in the same department, the one that he is head of. We graduated from Kharkiv National University of Internal Affairs, Computer sciences department, so we are “IT-guys in uniform”. We did firearms training, other stuff, but at the same time we coded.
OA: Sounds like an interesting and unusual programme.
SD: Yes, it’s a unique profession, the programme doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. But it had been cancelled.
AP: The university no longer trains IT specialists.
SD: So, after dozens of brainstorms, we came to the conclusion that a geographic base layer is the best basic interface for our analytic system. That is how the problem was defined, math and logic came to work.
OA: What goals exactly did you have in mind initially for your system? What was it for?
SD: You see, Dmytro Uzlov, the head of Informational Support Department, had been an operations officer for over 20 years. Additionally, a long time ago he graduated from Kharkiv National Radioelectronics University. It’s a kind of symbiosis. Someone who knows the value of data: in investigations, predictive work (that is, in preventing criminal actions). He realized that this kind of tool is necessary. There are similar projects abroad, for example, IBM i2 and so on, but they all have disadvantages. If you want to know more, we can talk about it later.
OA: Yes, that would be interesting. As we understand it’s a unique product in its kind. So, there are no other services like this in Ukraine. Do you have any plans to share your experience, expand to other cities?
SD: It’s not an easy process. Apart from the geoinformation system, geo basis, there is work with big data on the client side. A huge computing resources are needed to scale it up to the whole country. And other regions’ will. It requires a big financial input.
OA: Have you had any departments from other cities contacting you, wanting to cooperate on this?
SD: Well, we had not had any PR yet.
OA: We hope that is going to change.
Ganna Novgorodova: But there is a lot of bureaucracy in our country, it does not encourage innovation. How did it come to be that they said yes to creating, implementing, allocating time for this?
AP: We simply started working on it.
SD: Our personal initiative. And then the system started giving results, cases getting solved.
OA: Could you spare a little more details about your system, what is it exactly? What we see on police.kh.ua website, it’s just a small part of the whole? There is some internal part, also for patrol service?..
AP: No, this is not for patrol service, but more about internal analytics, for solving crimes. Like we have seen in the movies, in CSI, there is a team of analysts, they are just sitting at their desks making some kind of analytical summaries, then the guys working in the field go and check out the data. That is what we aim for, we have one analyst position in the department.
SD: The analysts, for instance, solve “cold” cases, that is there are situations when to departments’ areas are bordering, there are two crimes committed on separate admin territories. The officers simply don’t know that the crimes are connected due to knowledge limitations so to say. The system enables us to see the whole picture.
OA: That is exactly the advantage of GIS analysis…
SD: Yes, the data grid is overlayed on top of the geo grid.
OA: We would like to learn more about how it works. By the way, how much time has passed since the release?
SD: The internal part of the system is constantly developed, our partners and we are making various improvements. And police.kh.ua was started in May of 2015. We were planning it a lot earlier, but it was first realized in May, I think…
AP: Yes, in May 2015 we had a discussion with the cadets and students at the Internal Affairs University, we spoke about these problems. We came to a conclusion that an external module is required to inform the public, get feedback from them.
OA: And what is the public reaction? Do you have support?
AP: Surely we have support in social networks, there is activity on the web site. If we have a look at weekly statistics, there are quite a lot of visits.
OA: So, the web site is being used, not like people entering to have a look at the beginning out of curiosity?
AP: Let’s check it out. (ed.: Artem is checking the statistics on his stamt phone)
SD: We have stable visitors. The first day there have been 20,000 hits. Then it gradually decreased, 15, 10, 8 and plateaued.
GN: Well, some people just came to have a look, but what about any claims reported through the site?
SD: We had no plans to release the service when it actually happened. It was still raw, the plan was to release it in a month or two.
But some journalist from IT-sector, I think, maybe made a random search for police.kh.ua, and saw that there was some kind of crime intensity map, and there it went. It went all over the place.
We saw a lot of hits, a huge amount, and on the social networks – everywhere.
OA: Do you see that people will use the service, will it make the new police work more transparent?
SD: Yes, as it shows information about real cases.
OA: What about data analysis, clearly there’s lots of data, are there any visible tendencies, something that you noticed in Kharkiv? How does criminal activity spread in space-time?
AP: We have noted the most active district.
SD: From the point of view of active citizenship the most active is Moskovsky district. These are relative indicators – number of reports per number of dwellers. Surely, there is much more dwellers in Moskovsky or Kyivsky districts, and more reports. This may be connected to the fact that these are residential areas, the people are more bothered by everyday problems: noise from the neighbours, someone parking on the lawn, and so on.
OA: And what about crime rate? Is there any correlation to districts?
SD: In the hidden part of our system, Ricas, there is an analytical part. Police.kh.ua is a crime intensity map. So, one can see crime hotspots, where there is repeated criminal activity.
OA: And how is this data further processed? The analysts work with it further on?
SD: The information is passed on, the operations services work with it further..
GN: How is that exactly?
SD: Well, more patrols, for example, are allocated to this kind of areas. In theory, in case there is financial possibility, CCTV cameras will be placed. Surely, the work involves cameras.
OA: Have there been any cases when crimes were avoided thanks to this system?
SD: Of course! We may not even know about it, if they were avoided or not. One simple reason: more patrols in high-crime areas, so that when some thug goes out on a case, see the beacons (ed.: of the police cars), that person will not commit what was planned.
OA: What are your improvement ideas, functions that you are developing to further expand the system?
SD: A great amount!
AP: For example, we have an idea to make a prognosis of for criminal activity outbreaks in time.
GN: You have mentioned the internal system and the one available to us, common users. What is in the internal system, how is it different from the public one?
SD: The interface design is similar, we have created it so it can be easily customized, like, say, Photoshop. So that the analyst – the person working with our system – can set it up to their needs. There is a big amount of filters, external data to be connected to, data link automatic analysis. It’s easier to show that to tell about it.
AP: External data can be uploaded. If an operations officer has collected data, like an excel file, that person can upload it to the system from their desk.
SD: Or connect to an external database.
AP: There is division into.. we call it ‘layers’, like various levels, work with various cases: today we work on bicycle theft, tomorrow – wheel theft. For example, if tomorrow we need to
OA: So, this is work with databases, am I correct?
SD: Yes, there is deep database integration.
AP: There are specific filters, queries.
OA: Do your analysts have any connection to GIS? Are they GIS-analysts or other kind of analysts?
SD: In principle, it is not necessary to specialize in GIS, everything is visualized automatically. For example, an event address is geocoded automatically, using quite complex semantic algorithms, converted into coordinates.
GN: What other spatial tools are there?
SD: We have variaous toolsets, like search in radius, it works automatically, or even on police.kh.ua there is crime intensity map. Have you seen it?
GN: Yes, of course. Is it heatmap for Leaflet?
SD: Yes, it is a heatmap of criminal activity, special coefficients are used. These are real data, work with big data.
GN: There are a lot of events categorized as “Other events” on the map. What are they?
AP: Let me explain. These are events that are hard to qualify into a category, like “noisy neighbours”, there is no such thing.
SD: For example, hooliganism, when the actors have agreed not to file a complaint, the event had happened anyway, it is stored in that category, that are not connected to a main cases,
AP: Road accidents with no victims are placed into “other”. These cases of small importance, that are not connected to cases the main work is focused on – theft, robbery, burglary..
GN: You are using Leaflet library. Why did you make this choice?
SD: because …
AP: … we supported our native developer!
AP: In fact, we like this library very much because of its detailed API. We are using the latest version with a little customization.
SD: A little? A lot! There was a lot of customization.
First of all, yes, the API is very good, with high speed, and it is indeed colossal. Mapbox is based on leaflet, they did not employ our fellow-citizen by accident (ed.: they are talking about Vladimir Agafonkin).
OA: What about the patrol officers, as I now understand they don’t use your system?
SD: That’s right, everyone is using Tsunami system, an order came down from Kyiv, it was distributed. It is a little different, the geo-information aspect is narrowed down in that system. The officers even turn the navigation off and use another navigation device.
Why are they not using our system? Because the more gadgets the officers have, the more their efficiency decreases. In future, of course, we would like these systems to be merged into one.
AP: Our systems aim at different things. For them it’s patrol management first of all. Our system aims at, firstly, crime investigation, secondly, public relations, informing the public.
GN: So, in your system the calls made to 102 (ed.: police hotline), these are added to the database?
SD: Yes, exactly.
GN: And the ones added on your website by the users?
AP: The ones added to the website, similarly go to the 102 system. So, the 102 call-centre staff forward the patrols to events submitted from police.kh.ua.
GN: Do you have a lot of these submissions through the Internet?
AP: The load is not too high, the portion of citizens, that know about this service is minimal, less that 1%, I think.
SD: Even when we talk to our friends and ask:
“Have you heard of police.kh.ua?”
“Nope, what’s that?”
So, even among young people not everyone is informed, let alone older generations.
GN: A little more details. An issue is reported to 102, what happens next to this information? The system needs quite a powerful backend to process data, what technologies are you using?
SD: The operator qualifies the info, adds it into the DB, and passes it to the patrol service.
At the moment it runs on PHP7, for maximum speed. Geodata are stored in PostgreSQL, PostGIS. We have come to the conclusion that Oracle is not fast enough for our purposes, MySQL is fast and good, but sometimes it fails. PostgreSQL is reliable, fast, is quick with the geodata. These are the techs.
SD: In fact, a lot of plugins in use, they are our own developments, adjusted to work with big data. Imagine, for example, 20,000 markers are passed to the map at a single moment, connections between them are created automatically, that’s 20,000 times 10, and polylines linking them. This all works very fast.
OA: How did you achieve this?
SD: Yes, optimisation, a part of the calculations are performed on the server, a part on the client-side.
AP: And data pre processing.
GN: You haven’t shared your plugins on github?
SD: No, we had this idea.. We actually have an account on githug, we were wanted to commit, contribute, but the thing is all the plugins are very much interconnected, they need to be shared together. And that was work quite serious work…
SD: With support from some partners for data management, very powerful work with semantics, I guess you are more interested to know about GIS components…
What is the police database – it is a huge stream of data with millions of records. The main field of these is a text description. Working with these requires semantic data analysis. Further there goes visualization, finding hidden patterns with text mining.
GN: What is the IT companing helping you?
SD: Because of our agreement we cannot disclose this information. Essentially per official agreements they are the process owners, we are the task providers. They are working for the future, a lot of work time is put into it.
AP: So you know, we have more that two people on our team. There are also dministrators…
GN: Tell us about your team, as you’ve already mentioned it.
AP: Young, handsome, wanting to change our country!
AP: That also.
GN: Well, you’ve already mentioned your administrators, the developers. Tell us about your colleagues, if it’s not a secret.
AP: It’s an all men’s team. But seriously, we have admins, three people, three developers, and also three project managers.
SD: Our boss, he has a great experience in operations, he knows how to catch criminals in the field, he can project this process into IT, essentially he is a business analyst. The whole team works on process planning, Artem and myself are the main developers. The tasks are projected to IT and outsourced, some parts we do ourselves.
GN: By the way, you promised to tell us more about the international experience.
SD: There is a significant system, IBM i2, very pricy. It’s all about data mining, they only work with text data arrays, analysing hidden patterns. Same thing as our system does, although they do not use a geo basis. In the latest versions they have added ESRI maps. But it’s basically only a part of visualisation, meaning there is no analytics on the geo base layer, unlike our system.
Additionally, IBM i2 is complex of products. So, to analyse a radius you need one product, to analyse connections between people you need another, all in all thousands of products that need to be paid for. It’s not, like we have it, combined in one workspace. It does not work on a tablet, desktop and a smartphone. They have a separate compilation for each OS. We have addressed this at initial development stages. The system needed to work everywhere and dynamically. Everything works on ajax, so the client side is very powerful, apart from geo libraries we have a big amount of client code, that optimises everything, minimises the client losses.
The idea is that we combine visual mining with automatic data mining. It’s impossible to make it completely automized, like in i2, because we won’t be able to follow the processes as whole. They know it. But IBM is a billion dollar super corporation. As our boss says, it’s like a high speed train at highest velocity, it is impossible to stop it or change its course. To add some module or reassemble the system for a specific customer, they need a lot of resources, they employ thousands of developers to do it…
AP: Very recently, a couple of days ago, in fact, we had a meeting with an IBM representatives.
SD: John Nash, he is an expert in planetary safety (ed.: European Safer Planet Channel Manager at IBM).
AP: He represents European region, came to position i2, and we had a meeting, told him about our system. And he told us “Guys, you are our competitors, actually”
SD: An expert on planetary safety, what a scale!
AP: It’s very motivating when you are told ““Guys, you are our competitors”, it means a lot.
SD: Ericsson have also contacted us. At the moment they are interested in creating a single 112 call centre for the whole country. To combine 101, 102, 103, 104 into one service. The thing is they don’t have this analytical part, well, they might have one. But when they had seen what we have, they were very eager. Ericsson, IBM, Cisco – they all say it’s amazing.
GN: In that case, if you have competitors of this sort, but not many people know about you, although, your system might be the best. There is a need to convey that you are the best. Do you have that kind of strategy, an aim?
SD: Well, our system is built on altruism at the moment.
AP: We know how it works here, with our data. In every region of Ukraine there are similar sets of data. IBM have a kit. It’s not a concrete system, the you set up and it’s going to solve for you, no, that’s not going to happen.
SD: It might take years to set it up, and a lot of input.
AP: On the other hand, our system gives a change to solve crimes already. He have analyzed our work. Our analysts have solved about 150 crimes and other offences in the last 3 months.
GN: How does that work?
AP: hat’s how. The analysts are working.
SD: We’ll tell you a bit superficially, because..
AP: The analysts get to work, make analytical summaries, it is a set of crimes combined by common attributes, and a set of potential criminals, that may have committed the crimes. Later on this info goes to work. Special departments check it up and, if the statements are confirmed, the case is marked as “solved using Ricas system”, we get a…
GN: bonus point.
SD: “Ting”, there is even a sound like that played out.
As for analogues of police.kh.ua, there are a couple, in Chicago, for example.
AP: Of course there are systems like that abroad.
SD: They all have their own solutions, some are outdated, not even Google maps, but Yahoo, or something alike. Anyways, they are slow.
AP: Well, they were probably created a long time ago, and don’t put any resources into upgrades.
OA: What are your plans for the future?
SD: Because the internal part is being developed a lot the work on police.kh.ua is paused. But ideally we are planning to expand it to the whole of Ukraine. But again, it comes down to our management making an agreement with other regions’ management and our partner IT-company, the one helping us with unravel it all, with hardware, working power and so on… Police.dp.ua, police.lviv.ua – these projects are nearly complete, there are only buraucratic issues left. We will develop further, add new functions.
GN: Like what?
SD: Hardly anything geo related.
AP: What ideas do you have, what else can we add, is there anything missing?
AP: Oh, yes, there will be a special version.
SD: A secret button.
GN: And a selfie option.
SD: You can post a selfie now.
GN: Oh, really?
AP: If you want a selfie, make one. The operator will see it.
SD: The mobile version supports uploading directly from the browser, Android and iOS also support it. There is going to be an open API soon. It is being tested at the moment. Then it will be possible to make an app for making a report.
AP: At the moment everything is via the website, but it is adapted.
SD: Not too much traffic, so all the functions are working well. Some parts are disabled at the moment.
OA: Can you say a few words to summarize? How do you see the future?
SD: It is developing this kind of systems that will enable a dialog between the public and the state, will improve the quality of life and make people more informed…
AP: And I want to tell everyone, that before changing Ukraine for something else, start changing yourselves. Try to think how can you be useful for our country before demanding something from it.
SD: And don’t let the negative thought to take over!