How Artificial Intelligence is Advancing Criminal Gang Investigations

September 2023

Criminal gangs pose a significant threat to public safety on a global scale, engaging in a wide range of illicit activities including narcotics trafficking, homicide, human trafficking, internet crimes against children (ICAC), terrorism, and more. As these criminal organizations increasingly harness the power of digital technology to coordinate and execute their activities, law enforcement agencies must adapt and leverage advanced tools to effectively combat gang-related crimes.

Enter AI-based digital investigation solutions that are helping to modernize how gang investigations are conducted. The best of these solutions are comprehensive analytics tools designed to help law enforcement investigators navigate the massive, complex ocean of publicly available data across the open, deep and dark web, enabling them to quickly uncover crucial “needle in a haystack” insights relevant to an investigation. By delving into publicly available online content, investigators can identify and better understand criminal gangs, find insights on their criminal activities, and conduct more efficient and thorough crime investigations.

As with legitimate enterprises, criminal gangs conduct much of their activities online, including planning, recruiting new members, advertising (illicit) goods and services, and managing finances (e.g., laundering money). Many of these activities take place in plain sight, with publicly open posts, messages and photos that anyone can view without breaking into private accounts. But criminal gangs are tech savvy, and finding and analyzing their open content is challenging. For example, gang members often attempt to hide their identities, activities and connections by using multiple social media accounts for personal use and criminal use. Finding criminals’ “ghost” accounts and identifying their owners is virtually impossible using manual methods. However, with advanced AI network analysis, investigators can quickly examine open-source social media to identify an individual’s secondary “ghost” accounts and surface their criminal activities, associates, stolen goods, vehicles, and other publicly available information that can aid law enforcement in prosecuting complex criminal organizations. Sam Holt, Senior Solutions Architect for Voyager Labs and cybercrime investigations expert, states “I personally have seen our software tools used to solve cases involving 3D printed weapons, ghost guns, human trafficking, and even the trafficking of human organs.” In many cases, the publicly available open-source information obtained is significant enough to merit a warrant, which opens up an additional dimension of access to crucial evidence.

The impact of AI on gang investigations is best understood through real-world examples. In a significant investigation in a large U.S. city, police had developed a case against a violent street gang involved in drug trafficking and murder. As the investigation progressed, seven gang members were identified as being involved in the crimes. When analysts used AI-enabled software to further investigate these individuals, they immediately identified over 15,000 online connections among them and then quickly prioritized 3,000 connections shared by multiple gang members. Even this prioritized mass of data might take an investigator weeks to analyze. But using technology, they were able to eliminate innocent people from the search and prioritize four individuals who were connected to all seven gang members, displayed gang insignia via tattoos or signs in their public online photos, and had evidence of gang activity online. This provided investigators with solid leads for further vetting and investigation, eventually leading to additional arrests.

Some of the key benefits of emerging technology for law enforcement gang investigators include:

  • Uncovering publicly available insights: Rapidly search and analyze publicly available web data to uncover gang related individuals, conversations, and activities.
  • Mapping gang membership: Reveal gang member relationships and individual roles though analysis of public content.
  • Time savings: Condense weeks of analysis into minutes.
  • Visual intelligence: Analyze visual content (such as photos of insignia/tattoos, guns, stolen goods, illicit narcotics, vehicles, buildings) to identify entities, objects, and locations.
  • Knowledge sharing: Share insights and evidence across agencies, jurisdictions, and teams.
  • Instant document processing: Speedy analysis of large documents such as court-ordered social media warrant returns.

In a landscape where criminal gangs are leveraging digital tools, law enforcement must respond with equal technological prowess. Voyager Labs stands at the forefront of this transformation, empowering investigators with AI-driven solutions that help them search and sift publicly available data more quickly and comprehensively allowing them to focus on the higher-level analysis that requires human judgement and expertise. Through these advancements, the fight against criminal gangs enters a new era of efficiency and accuracy that will improve public safety.

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