Advances in artificial intelligence have come along in leaps and bounds in recent years, prompting police in Fukuoka and Kyoto to look into ways of using the technology to tackle organized crime.

The Fukuoka Prefectural Police in Kyushu face a particularly daunting task, with some of the country’s most violent crime syndicates operating in their jurisdiction. These groups are so violent they’ve even been known to lob hand grenades — dubbed “pineapples” in yakuza slang — at each other.

The Kudo-kai has been particularly virulent in resisting police crackdowns and retaliating against civilians who don’t toe the line. They’re certainly not above murder. In 1998, gang members reportedly killed the former head of a local fishermen’s association after he refused to let Kudo-kai get a cut of the harbor business.

Experimenting with new ways of tackling organized crime, police authorities in Fukuoka are trying to create a yakuza attack prediction system based on artificial intelligence. By implementing such technology, the authorities hope to protect witnesses and sources from gang syndicates.

Traditionally, the authorities have patrolled the neighborhoods of people who are under their protection. Unfortunately, they can’t be there 24/7 and are looking into ways to predict an attack on a witness or source before it happens.

Police who are familiar with organized crime have noticed that gang members typically scout areas they plan to attack in cars in advance. The authorities are therefore looking to tail members of a crime syndicate on a regular basis, paying close attention to their daily activities and the manner in which they are using their vehicles.

Police hope to collect data on gang movements, analyzing the patterns on a computer in order to predict when and where an attack might occur so that they can act in real time to prevent it from happening.

Police in Fukuoka hope to have a system up and running within the next fiscal year. Police in Kyoto and other prefectures are working on similar systems.

One has to wonder, however, whether such a system can really work?

Mike Maness, a senior director of TrapWire Inc., thinks so.

Maness has served for almost 20 years as an operations officer and field manager with the Central Intelligence Agency. He spent 15 years working undercover against terrorism and organized criminal networks.

Using a combination of facial recognition, pattern recognition, artificial intelligence, social media tools and proprietary analytic capabilities, TrapWire created a system that is able to identify patterns indicative of planned criminal behavior and alert authorities in real time. A number of government agencies in the United States use their services, as well as civilian operators.

“Not only this is type of system feasible, we’ve been doing it in the U.S. for almost a decade,” Maness says. “The Fukuoka police are taking exactly the right approach: attempting to prevent criminal activity instead of reacting to an event after it has happened. This ‘left of boom’ approach is being adopted by local, state and federal police agencies around the world as they realize they cannot be everywhere all the time.”

“Left of boom” is a military term describing the moment before a bomb explodes. By contrast, “right of boom” describes the moment after a bomb detonates.

While artificial intelligence is certainly a powerful tool in the fight against crime, Maness warns that it isn’t the ultimate solution.

“No single source of intelligence, whether HUMINT (human intelligence) or AI alone, can help predict and prevent crime,” Maness says. “It requires an amalgamation of all these disciplines, plus the addition of social media monitoring, suspicious activity reports from the public and the cooperation of the private sector.

“By combining HUMINT with all the other sources of intelligence noted above, police are acquiring a more fulsome understanding of planned attacks or criminal events, and are able to thwart the operation rather than react to the event and pick up the pieces.”

I know police officers in Japan who used to joke that they would be out of work if the country’s Crime Prevention Bureau — now known as the Community Safety Bureau — really did its job.

Crime prevention has always seemed like something of a pipe dream for law enforcement agencies, but for once real change could actually be on the horizon.

Dark Side of the Rising Sun is a monthly column that takes a behind-the-scenes look at news in Japan.

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