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Introducing: Predictive Policing

Posted by Josh Rothman  August 31, 2011 11:45 AM

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One of the most frustrating aspects of police work is that, for the most part, crime must be fought after the fact. If only the police could predict crimes and stop them preemptively! It now appears that something along those lines may actually be possible: Police in Santa Cruz are using software which uses yesterday's crimes to predict where tomorrow's will be.

Peter Murray at Singularity Hub explains how, working together, a team of mathematicians, an anthropologist, and a criminologist have adapted the model used to predict earthquake aftershocks to predict crime. They can do this because many crimes are committed in sequence: One burglary portends another nearby. By crunching the numbers, police can surf the wave of incoming burglary data, generating a rough map of the areas most likely to be burglarized:

1832 map of property crime in France by the first criminologist, André-Michel Guerry.
The current, real world test of the software involves generating a map of the city areas most likely to be burglarized, the time of day they are most likely to get hit, and deploying personnel accordingly. The software is recalibrated every day when burglaries from the previous day are added to the dataset. They don’t actually expect to catch people in the act, but to deter more crimes with more effective patrolling. The test that is underway will be evaluated at six months, but already the data is encouraging.... The program led to five arrests in July. Even more impressive, compared to July 2010 burglaries, the number of July 2011 burglaries are down 27 percent.

Next, the mathematicians plan to extend their model, creating "software that predicts crimes other than burglaries. Because gang violence begets more gang violence it is amenable to the same type of chain reaction-dependent analysis." Mathematician George Mohler and the rest of the team "have already begun working on a gang violence model using the activities of three gang rivalries in Los Angeles." Read more at Singularity Hub.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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