Using Ambulance Data to Understand Violent Crime
Taking an innovative approach to reducing demand on services caused by violence-related injuries, the West Midlands Police sought to improve analysis and understanding of ambulance data as a source of intelligence for violence prevention activities.
An analysis of the data indicates that more than two-thirds of ambulance incidents were not found in police data. Because ambulance data is collected automatically and includes location data for each call, sharing the data is easily scalable, should it prove effective in reducing crime.
In many countries worldwide, public violence has grown to epidemic proportions. Violence can degrade social cohesion and public faith in government, limits mobility and opportunity, and deters investment. Furthermore, it creates substantial costs for public services at a time when emergency services in many countries face both unprecedented demand and also significant budget cuts.
The challenge facing all law enforcement agencies is how to focus available resources to deliver better services at a time when ‘doing more with less’ is often required. This means identifying where and when violence occurs in order to better understand the ‘geography of violence’, but also to think about how to better prevent crime.
One possible way to achieve this aim is to use ambulance call out data for violent incidents to inform violence prevention efforts. However, to date, the empirical basis for the use of ambulance data in injury surveillance and more direct violence prevention is limited.
Following the award of a Police Innovation Fund grant, West Midlands Police (WMP) and RAND Europe undertook a ‘proof of concept’ study on using ambulance data for injury surveillance and also considered how ambulance data could be applied to violence prevention. The aim was to understand the following:
- Could ambulance data add potential value for injury surveillance? E.g. does it bring new information over and above the data which is already available to police?
- Could ambulance data be applied to violence prevention activities? If so, then how?
WMP and the West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) provided RAND Europe with three years’ of data related to all violence-related calls for service in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton. WMP also provided an emergency department dataset covering the same period. The analysis of these three datasets formed the basis of the study.
RAND Europe also provided outputs from the WMAS dataset to WMP analysts and West Midlands Violence Prevention Alliance partners over a 6-month period to explore its utility as a source of intelligence in violence reduction or prevention activities in the West Midlands.
- Ambulance records contain substantial new information on violence, with between 66 to 90 per cent of ambulance incidents not found in police data. Therefore, police are not aware of the location of a substantial proportion of violent incidents.
- The volume of ambulance call-outs for public violence, averaging 16 per day in the West Midlands, means that ambulance data can offer high volume data that is not typically recorded by the police or emergency departments.
- Ambulance data is collected automatically and includes location data for each call; therefore, it does not require substantial additional work to be collated and shared. This means that if ambulance data can be proven to be effective in reducing crime, then it is easily scalable.
- Ambulance data is a new form of intelligence which may have value for violence prevention or reduction activities. However, its utility as such a tool is still unproven and further research is required. RAND Europe is planning an experimental follow-up study that will take this next step.