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Bolstering the border

New technology identifies high-risk areas

Risk Terrain Modelling, which predicts where people are going to break the law, has increased the prairie Integrated Border Enforcement Team's identification of individuals illegally crossing the border. Credit: Sgt. Chris Wilson

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A few years ago, members of the prairie Integrated Border Enforcement Team (IBET) wanted to find a better way to secure the border between Saskatchewan and the United States.

"Police officers being police officers, we tried to find the easiest way to get that done," says Sgt. Mike Ferguson, former NCO I/C of prairie IBET, a unit within Integrated Organized Crime South. "We had 632 kilometres of border, and, at the time, about seven people to cover it."

They ran a pilot project for about a year, but Ferguson, who is now with Regina Integrated Intelligence Unit, said it didn't work because they ran it in too small an area that wasn't busy enough.

At about the same time, Matt Robinson, a new intelligence analyst, joined the team.

"He's a really smart guy," says Ferguson. "We said, 'Matt, here was one of our better failures. We think there's potential.

Here's the challenge to you — take a look at what we've done so far and see what you can do.' "

Investing in people

Robinson took on the challenge. And in his research, he came across a program that, while not a perfect fit, had potential.

The original program called Risk Terrain Modelling (RTM), created by Rutgers University in the U.S., was developed for a major American city — not a rural environment.

RTM uses geographic information including variables such as terrain, weather conditions and known activity, to paint a picture of where certain events, like crimes, may occur.

"We didn't really have anything that fit the bill for what we wanted to do and how we wanted to measure threats along the border," says Robinson. "This fit perfectly, the idea of it."

With support from IBET and the division to get the training, tools and resources he needed, Robinson was able to adapt the original program for use in a rural area — the border between Saskatchewan and the neighbouring states of Montana and North Dakota.

"We put it into trial and started getting great results," says Robinson. "It enhances what we already have and enables us to deploy resources much more efficiently. That's the main benefit of it."

Cross-border partnership

The biggest challenge in adapting the technology for a rural environment was that there was less data to pull from than what an urban centre would have.

So the RCMP partnered with the United States Border Patrol to gather intelligence and get a better idea of what's going on at the border.

Now, they meet regularly, share information, conduct joint patrols and co-ordinate strategies to mitigate threats.

"The partnership is absolutely key," says Insp. Trudy Bangloy, the OIC of Integrated Organized Crime South.

"That whole network of intelligence among both agencies is crucial to success and we rely on that capacity to have that intelligence-sharing."

The new analytical techniques to measure risk and new ways of applying that intelligence to secure the border helps IBET with decision-making on both strategic and tactical levels.

"It offers the ability to understand and defend the border in new ways," says Bangloy.

"It's increased our identification (of individuals crossing the border), interdiction and arrest rates."

Those rates have increased by 80 per cent in the last three years since the technology was adapted and put into use.

"And with the higher amount of identification that we get, it really gives us a bigger and more accurate threat picture because it gives us more intelligence on activities at the border," says Bangloy.

While the whole idea of finding and adapting this technology is to predict where people are going to break the law — and with that intelligence, put resources there ahead of time — it was about more, says Ferguson.

"Was it able to predict where people were going to break the law? Yeah, it did." says Ferguson. "But this also proves that people will do awesome work if you let them and support them — and Matt did."

Reprinted with permission from the Pony Express (No. 3, 2015).

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