California State University, Long Beach
Illustration of Dark Web

Trusting the Criminal Justice System


Combining law enforcement intelligence data and legal case files has enabled Dr. Aili Malm to analyze how criminal networks develop, and the results are based in trust.

Using sophisticated statistical techniques, Malm found that criminal networks tend to favor security over efficiency when choosing colleagues. For example, if person A is connected to person B, and person B is connected to person C, then A and C are likely to develop a connection over time, thus security by enhancing trust.

She said that criminal networks also tend to grow through the use of brokers (go-betweens) that connect groups of people. “This also enhances security,” Malm said. “This is a key difference between networks engaged in legal versus illegal activity.”

Malm is part of a team of international researchers and has traveled extensively to present and train crime and intelligence analysts. Funded by a $334,000 (U.S dollars) grant from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, Malm examined internet-based drug marketplaces that use encryption to avoid detection, otherwise known as the Dark Web. She has taken graduate students to Brazil, Denmark and England as part of their research assistantships.

Closer to home, Malm is studying California’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Project, which works to keep low-level drug offenders and prostitutes out of the criminal justice system. Malm, and Long Beach State colleague, Dr. Dina Perrone, are evaluating the program’s effectiveness at two pilot sites in Los Angeles County and San Francisco. She received a $400,000 grant from the Board of State and Community Corrections to conduct this research.

Malm wants to find evidence-based approaches that improve society’s ability to manage crime. “If any of my research improves the field of policing, even a little bit,” she said, “then I’ll consider my career a success.”