New police unit using social media to predict outbreaks of gang violence

A new team of young officers is combing social media to predict outbreaks of violence[1] and gang[2] crime, police have revealed. The Metropolitan Police[3] said the unit, codenamed Project Alpha, had already prevented “threats to life” and helped stop a string of copycat robberies targeting JD Sports. Senior officers said it is already conducting work for five other British police forces and aims to build the same capability across the country.

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[4]

Temporary Detective Chief Superintendent Mike West said the unit uses intelligence primarily from YouTube[5], Snapchat [6]and Instagram[7].

“We want to be on the front foot of open-source intelligence,” he told journalists at Scotland Yard on Wednesday.

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rightCreated with Sketch.


1/50 3 December 2019

Protesters against the visit of US President Trump during a demonstration near Buckingham Palace on the first day of the Nato Summit in London

EPA

2/50 2 December 2019

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9/50 25 November 2019

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17/50 17 November 2019

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Dancers perform a mass Ghoomar dance during Diwali celebrations in Trafalgar Square, London

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32/50 2 November 2019

Campaigners listen as SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon addresses a rally calling for Scottish independence in Glasgow

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33/50 1 November 2019

Police and recovery workers remove a damaged bus from the scene of a crash in Sevenoaks Road, south-east London. A man has been arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving after a person died and 15 others were injured

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34/50 31 October 2019

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn gestures as launches the party’s election campaign in south London. Britain will go to the polls on December 12

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35/50 30 October 2019

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon joins Alyn Smith, the SNP’s candidate for Stirling, at the Made in Stirling Store and Creative Hub, during the general election campaign trail

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36/50 29 October 2019

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37/50 28 October 2019

Paul Hayes of Lower Lydbrook ferries children to dry land after the River Wye burst its banks flooding the Gloucestershire village

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38/50 27 October 2019

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England fans celebrate after their side beat New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup semi-final match in Japan.

Eddie Jones’s side won 19-7

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Meerkats at Blair Drummond Safari Park, Stirling, investigate a carved pumpkin as the park celebrates national pumpkin day on Saturday October 26. PA

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42/50 23 October 2019

Thirty-nine bodies have been found in a lorry container in Essex, police have said.The discovery of 38 adults and one teenager was made at an industrial estate in Thurrock.Police said they believed the lorry had come from Bulgaria and entered the UK at Holyhead, in Wales, on Saturday.Essex Police said it had launched a murder investigation after its officers were called to Waterglade Industrial Park, in Grays, in the early hours of Wednesday morning.A 25-year-old-man from Northern Ireland has been arrested on suspicion of murder

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43/50 22 October 2019

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44/50 21 October 2019

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48/50 17 October 2019

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson shake hands during a news conference after agreeing on a Brexit deal, in Brussels

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49/50 16 October 2019

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50/50 15 October 2019

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1/50 3 December 2019

Protesters against the visit of US President Trump during a demonstration near Buckingham Palace on the first day of the Nato Summit in London

EPA

2/50 2 December 2019

England captain Joe Root celebrates reaching his double century during day 4 of the second Test match against New Zealand at Seddon Park in Hamilton, New Zealand

Getty

3/50 1 December 2019

A hard frost is seen on the first day of the meteorological winter in Pitlochry, Scotland

Reuters

4/50 30 November 2019

A police officer looks at flowers left at London Bridge in central London, after a terrorist wearing a fake suicide vest who went on a knife rampage killing two people, and was shot dead by police

PA

5/50 29 November 2019

School children and students take part in the Youth Strike for Climate in London as part of the Fridays for Future Global Climate Strike

Angela Christofilou/The Independent

6/50 28 November 2019

Cyclists make their way up a tree lined hill near to Moor Crichel in Dorset. November’s dismal weather will finally change, with drier and colder conditions coming for the start of December, forecasters have said

PA

7/50 27 November 2019

The moment a swan flew over a flock of 60,000 starlings as dusk fell on Whixall Moss Nature Reserve in Shropshire

Andrew Fusek Peters / SWNS

8/50 26 November 2019

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon plays with local children during a visit to the Jelly Tots & Cookies Play Cafe in Uddingston, South Lanarkshire

PA

9/50 25 November 2019

Prime Minister Boris Johnson poses with sheep as he visits the Royal Welsh Showground, in Llanelwedd, Builth Wells, whilst on the General Election campaign trail

PA

10/50 24 November 2019

Cush Jumbo attends the 65th Evening Standard Theatre Awards at London Coliseum

Getty Images

11/50 23 November 2019

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn meets a supporter on a train on his return from a visit to Sheffield

PA

12/50 22 November 2019

Gallery assistants adjust ‘The Ancient Town of Uglich’ by Konstantin Yuon, 1913, estimated at GBP600,000 to GBP800,000, during a press preview of the sale of works by some of the most pre-eminent creators of Russian art at Sotheby’s in London

PA

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PA

14/50 20 November 2019

After Mauricio Pochettino’s sacking the eveninfg before newly appointed Tottenham head coach, Jose Mourinho, takes his first training session in charge

Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty

15/50 19 November 2019

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to Jimmy Egan’s Boxing Academy at Wythenshawe, while on the campaign trail ahead of the General Election

PA

16/50 18 November 2019

Mist over Buttermere lake in the Lake District

PA

17/50 17 November 2019

Stefanos Tsitsipas lifts the winners trophy after beating Dominic Thiem at the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament in London

EPA

18/50 16 November 2019

Duke of York, speaking for the first time about his links to Jeffrey Epstein in an interview with BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis

BBC/PA

19/50 15 November 2019

Brazilian indigenous leader, Kreta Kaingang from the Kaingang People, holds a petition letter with over 200,000 signatures asking the UK government to suspend trade talks with Brazil until the Amazon and its people are protected, as he poses outside 10 Downing Street

AFP via Getty

20/50 14 November 2019

Spanning all four spaces and the corridor of the White Cube Bermondsey gallery Anselm Kiefer’s new exhibition encompasses large-scale painting and installation

Rex Features

21/50 13 November 2019

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wears a pair of mittens that say ‘Pick Pam’, referring to Labour MP Pam Duncan-Glancy (not pictured) as he visits the Heart of Scotstoun Community Centre in Glasgow

Getty

22/50 12 November 2019

Head glass conservator Sam Kelly inspects the Angeli Laudantes and Angeli Ministrantes stained glass windows at Salisbury Cathedral as restoration work to clean, conserve and restore the windows, installed in 1879, gets underway

PA

23/50 11 November 2019

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PA

24/50 10 November 2019

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Reuters

25/50 9 November 2019

Snow falling in Glyn Ceiriog near Llangollen in Denbighshire

Steffan Williams/PA

26/50 8 November 2019

Scottish National Party candidates, including SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford (centre left) and Nicola Sturgeon (centre), with a Brexit message at the party’s General Election campaign launch in Edinburgh

PA

27/50 7 November 2019

Delivery lorry stuck in flood water at Coston Ford, Leicestershire after heavy rainfall in the area

PA

28/50 6 November 2019

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes a statement to announce the general election at Downing Street in London, Britain

Reuters

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PA

30/50 4 November 2019

Pelicans in St James’s Park in central London

AFP/Getty

31/50 3 November 2019

Dancers perform a mass Ghoomar dance during Diwali celebrations in Trafalgar Square, London

Reuters

32/50 2 November 2019

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AFP via Getty

33/50 1 November 2019

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PA

34/50 31 October 2019

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn gestures as launches the party’s election campaign in south London.

Britain will go to the polls on December 12

AFP via Getty

35/50 30 October 2019

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon joins Alyn Smith, the SNP’s candidate for Stirling, at the Made in Stirling Store and Creative Hub, during the general election campaign trail

PA

36/50 29 October 2019

A 1264 locomotive travels through an autumn scene along the North York Moors National Park

PA

37/50 28 October 2019

Paul Hayes of Lower Lydbrook ferries children to dry land after the River Wye burst its banks flooding the Gloucestershire village

PA

38/50 27 October 2019

Cosplayers during the third day of London’s Comic Con

PA

39/50 26 October 2019

England fans celebrate after their side beat New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup semi-final match in Japan. Eddie Jones’s side won 19-7

PA

40/50 25 October 2019

Meerkats at Blair Drummond Safari Park, Stirling, investigate a carved pumpkin as the park celebrates national pumpkin day on Saturday October 26. PA

41/50 24 October 2019

A giant inflatable monster, created by artists Filthy Luker and Pedro Estrellas, is unveiled in Manchester ahead of the city’s annual halloween celebrations

PA

42/50 23 October 2019

Thirty-nine bodies have been found in a lorry container in Essex, police have said.The discovery of 38 adults and one teenager was made at an industrial estate in Thurrock.Police said they believed the lorry had come from Bulgaria and entered the UK at Holyhead, in Wales, on Saturday.Essex Police said it had launched a murder investigation after its officers were called to Waterglade Industrial Park, in Grays, in the early hours of Wednesday morning.A 25-year-old-man from Northern Ireland has been arrested on suspicion of murder

PA

43/50 22 October 2019

Ships out at sea before the sun rises off the coast of Whitley Bay, Northumberland

PA

44/50 21 October 2019

Hundreds of students take part in the traditional Raisin Monday foam fight on St Salvator’s Lower College Lawn at the University of St Andrews in Fife.

The messy display is the culmination of a weekend of festivities where first years say thank you to their more senior student “parents” for mentoring them

PA

45/50 20 October 2019

Wales players celebrate after beating France in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final in Japan. Warren Gatland’s side had to battle after France’s fast start but capitalised on their rivals’ ill discipline to squeeze into the semi-finals, 20-19

Reuters

46/50 19 October 2019

People gather in London to join the Final Say march for a people’s vote

Angela Christofilou/The Independent

47/50 18 October 2019

Protesters on Whitehall in London during an Extinction Rebellion climate change protest

PA

48/50 17 October 2019

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson shake hands during a news conference after agreeing on a Brexit deal, in Brussels

Reuters

49/50 16 October 2019

A man walks his dog through the fallen leaves in Clarkes Gardens, Allerton in Liverpool

PA

50/50 15 October 2019

Police officers carry away an activist as Extinction Rebellion protesters block a road with a caravan in central London

Reuters

“This is about understanding what is a threat now, what is a threat today,” he added.

“We are stopping serious offending happening, serious violence, firearms-related crime, knife-related crime, knife sales, drug dealing on Snapchat and Instagram at scale.”

The team has also detected plans to attack inmates and import drugs into prisons, the officer said, adding: “It’s all out there.”

Read more

Set up in June, Project Alpha has already dealt with 800 taskings. Eight officers, mostly under the age of 25 and born in “challenging” areas of London, are currently dedicated to the unit.

“Their insight is fantastic and their skills on social media are second to none,” T/Det Ch Supt West said.

“They spot threats in a different way.

The terminology used by gangs, the differences between south London and north London, and the type of slang used.” 

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Police said while some threats – like those seen in drill music[8] – are overt, codewords can be used to conceal illegal activity. In one case, detectives discovered liquid cannabis was being infused into sweets and sold over social media using a codeword spread on WhatsApp.

Ealing stabbing: Man knifed to death outside London railway station

Project Alpha also helped stop a spate of looting targeting JD Sports branches earlier this year. The trend saw teenagers – some armed – storm shops in locations including Tottenham, Croydon and Stoke-on-Trent while wearing hoods and masks and flee with looted clothing.

After videos were shared on social media in October, apparent copycat incidents were reported in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Watch more

Police said Project Alpha picked up online “chatter” before the raids hit the news, and predicted the next targets.

“They scanned Snapchat and Instagram and found where the next wave was going to happen,” T/Det Ch Supt West said. 

“By working with JD Sports, we were able to up security at shops and the offending stopped within 24 hours.”

He said the project had evolved out of a crackdown on drill music videos that started in 2015, and has forced violent tracks onto niche platforms and porn websites.[9]

T/Det Ch Supt West said over the past two years, the number of threats used in drill music had decreased as its commercial success had risen. Project Alpha officers have been engaging with the operators of online channels that promote the tracks in an attempt to draw the line between artists expressing their experiences and directly inciting violence. The government’s first ever Serious Violence Strategy, released in April 2018, said social media had created “an almost unlimited opportunity for rivals to antagonise each other” in ways viewed by a huge audience.

The document said videos and posts “glamorise weapons and gang life”, while inciting attacks and possibly leading to “cycles of tit-for-tat violence”.

The strategy was heavily criticised for omitting a leaked report by the Home Office warning police budget cuts had “likely contributed” to rising violence and “encouraged” offenders.

At least 129 people have been killed in London so far this year according to Metropolitan Police figures, which do not include last Friday’s terror attack.

Police said while stabbing numbers are broadly level, shootings have fallen by 35 per cent year on year following proactive operations against gangs and organised crime groups.

References

  1. ^ violence (www.independent.co.uk)
  2. ^ gang (www.independent.co.uk)
  3. ^ Metropolitan Police (www.independent.co.uk)
  4. ^ Download now (independent.onelink.me)
  5. ^ YouTube (www.independent.co.uk)
  6. ^ Snapchat (www.independent.co.uk)
  7. ^ Instagram (www.independent.co.uk)
  8. ^ drill music (www.independent.co.uk)
  9. ^ violent tracks onto niche platforms and porn websites. (www.independent.co.uk)

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