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Law Enforcement Wants To Try 'Predictive Policing' 377

Posted by Soulskill
from the don't-anger-the-precogs dept.
Harperdog with this excerpt from a story about using statistics to fight crime: "It’s great when cops catch criminals after they've done their dirty work. But what if police could stop a crime before it was even committed? Though that may sound like a fantasy straight from a Philip K. Dick novel, it's a goal police departments from Los Angeles to Memphis are actively pursuing with help from the Department of Justice and a handful of cutting-edge academics. It's called 'predictive policing.' The idea: Although no one can foresee individual crimes, it is possible to forecast patterns of where and when homes are likely to be burgled or cars stolen by analyzing truckloads of past crime reports and other data with sophisticated computer algorithms. 'We know where crime has occurred in the last month, but that doesn't mean it'll be there next month,' Los Angeles Police Department Lt. Sean Malinowski says. 'The only way for us to continue to have crime reduction is to start anticipating where crime is going to occur.'"
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Law Enforcement Wants To Try 'Predictive Policing'

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  • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Friday July 08, 2011 @03:31PM (#36698646) Homepage Journal
    Are they spending a lot of money for a fancy computer system that will tell them to watch out for crime in the crime ridden part of town?
    • by SengirV (203400) on Friday July 08, 2011 @03:35PM (#36698694)

      No, that would be profiling. And we all know that is frowned upon these days.

    • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Friday July 08, 2011 @03:54PM (#36698966)

      Are they spending a lot of money for a fancy computer system that will tell them to watch out for crime in the crime ridden part of town?

      While your comment makes a good sound bite, that's not the idea behind predictive analytics. You want to look for factors that can forecast a certain type of event or events before they occur. If you find the right ones you can take action to prevent undesirable outcomes.

      For example, you could listen for the number, duration, and frequency of brakes being applied hard at intersections as a predictor of accidents. That would allow you to redesign the intersection to improve safety; even if no accidents have occurred.

      This is not a new idea, but as computer power increases you can do more sophisticated modeling and analysis. In some ways, you are trying to do with machines what humans do instinctively - look for patterns that signify something is about to occur.

      • by sjbe (173966) on Friday July 08, 2011 @04:26PM (#36699310)

        You want to look for factors that can forecast a certain type of event or events before they occur. If you find the right ones you can take action to prevent undesirable outcomes.

        The problem is proving that it works. I used to do simulation of manufacturing systems for my day job about a decade ago. The problem with it was that if you build a good model which avoided a cost, only rarely could you actually prove that the money spent on the model was worthwhile. After all, if you never incur a cost (or a crime), how do you know what the ROI on the analytic model was? Very difficult to prove most of the time since you can't prove a negative. An organization like the FBI or maybe the NYPD *might* be able to justify it but most police organizations simply would not find the ROI to be acceptable.

        That's not to say simulation modeling is a bad idea. It does work and can be very powerful. But it is VERY easy to misapply it even if the analytic models are correct and validated. It also tends to be extremely expensive hire the analysts and buy the software so you have to be sure the problem is of sufficient scale to justify the expense. Then of course there is the problem of actually building the model. There is a truism that "all models are wrong - some models are useful". Getting a useful model is not always an easy thing to do. A bad (very wrong) model can sometimes be worse than no model at all.

        I generally tell people that if they can solve a problem without a complicated computer simulation, they should. Most uses I've seen for simulation are somewhat like duck hunting with a howitzer. For all but the most complicated and intractable problems with lots of variables and high risk of a negative outcome there is a strong chance that there are much simpler and cheaper solutions available.

    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      For a measly $1 million, I'll sell them a computer that will offer cutting-edge insights like "Look for drug-dealing and robberies in the neighborhood with grillwork on all the windows and people sitting around drinking malt liquor on their porches all day."

      It's really innovative technology. And for a mere $1 million, I'm really just giving them away.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Friday July 08, 2011 @03:34PM (#36698670) Homepage

    Arresting someone before a crime is committed is a bad idea. Arresting someone in the process of committing a crime is also okay. What they are talking about here, it seems, is predicting crime like predicting the weather and manning the areas most likely to have precipitation.

    Alternatively, if you live in a bad neighborhood, just keep a bunch of donuts on-hand. They can smell it!

    • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Friday July 08, 2011 @03:45PM (#36698854)
      Sixty percent chance of prostitution with scattered drug deals, so dress appropriately.
      • by Tanktalus (794810)

        Um, what is that, a miniskirt, heels, and spare needles?

        • Um, what is that, a miniskirt, heels, and spare needles?

          Consider the average Slashdotter's social profile, I'd bet it'd be a 50-year-old drag queen and a handful of Ex-Lax.

    • They already do this in some cities, just based on local knowledge. It typically involves spending lots of money on private security firms to police the projects. I remember a company that I used to work for hired one of those firms as well. You knew it before you bothered to ask where the bullet holes in the cars came from.
    • by hedwards (940851)

      More or less, it's been known for many years that there are factors which tend to lead towards higher rates of crime. Things like the higher up you are in a highrise, the quality and quantity of lighting in an area and the location of obstructions to view.

      The only issue I see with a system like this is cost and efficacy. If it works and is cost effective then there really is no problem with it. They aren't going to be issuing warrants and arresting people on the basis of being in the area where a crime is l

  • by metalmaster (1005171) on Friday July 08, 2011 @03:34PM (#36698674)
    first futurama and now slashdot. I think my daily dose of minority report has been satisfied
  • I've always wanted to know how to predict the future myself. So far, it's been a huge failure for me. I've bought all these crystal balls, hired some company rhyming with schmalantir... maybe they can find the right mix. After they do, imma get so rich in the stock market! Booyah!
    • by Relayman (1068986)
      Prediction: The stock market is going to go down. There, you're all set.
    • by RajivSLK (398494)
      I can predict the future pretty accurately. For example: I predict that next January it is likely to snow here. I predict that I am going to play soccer tonight and that 25 other players will show up to play with me. I predict that thousands of people will come together to create a new edition of the New York Times for me to read tomorrow morning. I predict that there will be a car accident this weekend and someone will die. Really most of my life is predictable in the near future. I don't know about yo
      • Subset == Set? Someone tell the P == NP people, we have a breakthrough going on here!
      • Even if you don't predict that something will happen, that doesn't mean you'll feel surprised.

        I can predict the future pretty accurately.

        Maybe from what you've observed so far.

  • ...except with Watson the supercomputer instead of Samantha Morton. Just remember that when he says "Toronto" it means he doesn't know the answer.
    • Just remember that when he says "Toronto" it means he doesn't know the answer.

      Remember, "Toronto" is an Iroquois word meaning "the place where the mind narrows".
      I've heard that "Ottawa" is one of its synonyms.

  • "The only way for us to continue to have crime reduction is to start anticipating where crime is going to occur."

    Maybe not having a poverty rate of over 16% [latimes.com] would be a way?

    • by billcopc (196330)

      SHHH! Don't let the cops hear that intellect, they'll think you're mocking them.

    • You nailed it. Predictive policing is stupid, a fancy name for crime prevention, and unless they think of crime as a symptom of an underlying problem (like the one you stated), they have reached a dead end. Moreover, this kind of crime is biased against lower class crimes. Predition: They will implement it, and in five years they will be surprised to know that crime levels haven't went down.

  • Not precrime (Score:3, Insightful)

    by YodasEvilTwin (2014446) on Friday July 08, 2011 @03:36PM (#36698708) Homepage
    Policing the Dunkin' Donuts isn't going to prevent many crimes. Policing areas where crimes occur will prevent crimes, or at least force the criminals to expend energy going elsewhere. This is called "the police being smart and doing their jobs" and it's nothing like Minority Report.
    • by canajin56 (660655)
      Look, you clearly read the summary. That's quite frowned upon here! You are supposed to read the headling, see "predictive policing" and conclude that they are running people's profiles (bonus points if you assume the profiles are attained by warrantless wiretaps) through a computer and then arresting them because Ziggy says there's an 87.2% chance that they are going to rob the liquor store tomorrow. This is Slashdot, don't you know?
      • by billcopc (196330)

        Dude, we're all way ahead of the curve. We're using "predictive commenting", where we can save all that reading time and just type random insults. With the millions of monkeys using /., surely one of them will happen upon a valid comment.

  • or are laid off, you can expect crime to rise. Duh!

    That is why it's so important to have a strong economy. I don't think you need predictive software to figure out that people have to eat.
    This is ultimately just a waste of money on the part of Law Enforcement and that money could better be spent actually creating a job or on actually improving investigation techniques and training. Police work solves crime, and most of the crime that has to be given the highest priority is violent crime.

    How would this softw

    • US crime rates have been dropping for nearly 10 years, and the recession, unemployment, etc. haven't caused an increase so far. Your theory doesn't match the data [disastercenter.com]

      The software isn't supposed to predict specific crimes, but areas/times. e.g. it is probable that 10 houses in this neighborhood will be burgled this month during work hours.
    • by artor3 (1344997)

      And if it's cloudy, it's gonna rain! Duh! Why waste money on meteorology, when we can just buy raincoats for everyone?

      Science and technology are a tad more advanced than your soundbites.

  • It's about time. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Comboman (895500) on Friday July 08, 2011 @03:42PM (#36698798)

    The police seem to have no problem analyzing data to figure out the best places and times for speed traps. It's about time they used the same principles to stop real crimes.

    • Try driving through the north half of Texas some time. They really got it down. Sometimes it looks like they planted a bunch of bushes specifically so they could park cars behind them while obfuscating the speed limit signs. The tickets are about 180 bucks for 1-9 miles over the limit.
  • Predicting where crime will happen, and putting more uniforms there to stop it or catch the guys in the act? That's good. That's very good—I'd call it police work at its best. As long as it's at least a little better than random.

    Predicting who is going to commit a crime and arresting them before they do it, now that would be bad. But it doesn't sound like that's what they're intending.

    I think it's important to support innovations in law enforcement that actually help, especially when there are so m

  • All this will do is change the behavior of criminals. They'll see where police are starting to crack down & start changing their tactics. You might get a net reduction of crime of 1% or so. I'll leave whether or not that is worth the cost (both monetary & freedom) to the rest of you to debate.
  • Can they use this same technique to realize we don't need all these body scanners in the airports, etc.?
  • focus on reducing the causes of crime and you kill a whole migration of birds with 1 stone.

  • Its been around for a while.

  • It's a widespread problem for inexperienced officers which can lead to an unsatisfying martial relationship.

  • My CJ teacher (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Whorhay (1319089) on Friday July 08, 2011 @03:59PM (#36699024)

    My Criminal Justice teacher always taught this. The example that I remember from him was unmarked patrol cars.

    When he was a captain in the local Sherrif Department he fought against using unmarked cars for patrol. His reasoning was that a visible patrol car detered criminal and traffic violations wherever it went. It also let the general public know that the police were in the area and there for you. And in case of an emergency a member of the public could quickly recognize a police vehicle to flag it down.

    The only upside of the unmarked cars was that you could collect more ticket revenue easily. But ticket revenue was not the purpose of the department, so why should they give up ground in crime prevention for marginal gains in catching offenders unawares.

    It boils down to the question, is it better to prevent a crime or catch the criminal after the fact?

    • Re:My CJ teacher (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TheCarp (96830) <sjc@noSPAM.carpanet.net> on Friday July 08, 2011 @04:12PM (#36699162) Homepage

      > It boils down to the question, is it better to prevent a crime or catch the criminal after the fact?

      Didn't you just answer that question:

      C. Ignore crime and engage in modern day tax farming instead

      Which is about what I expect as Homeland Stupidity has put more and more pigs on the street, and shrinking violent crime rates have given those pigs less and less to do.

    • by TheDugong (701481)

      Shouldn't the fact that their may be unmarked police cars patrolling be a deterrent in itself?

    • Surely your CJ teacher taught you that police have absolutely zero responsibility to protect the Great Unwashed. The courts have ruled on this, it's an established fact. Their only obligation is to catch the criminal after the crime has been committed, and honestly they aren't even very good at that.
    • by brit74 (831798)
      > "The only upside of the unmarked cars was that you could collect more ticket revenue easily. But ticket revenue was not the purpose of the department, so why should they give up ground in crime prevention for marginal gains in catching offenders unawares. It boils down to the question, is it better to prevent a crime or catch the criminal after the fact?"

      Seems to me that marked police cars are preventing crime only in the immediate vicinity of the police car. For example, when I'm driving my car an
    • by rcamans (252182)

      Where did you get the idea that marked patrol cars deter crime? There are police stations in Detroit and other crime-ridden cities which have prostitution and drug sales directly across the street on a 24-7 basis. Are you trying to tell me that the police station is "unmarked"? I don't think so.

    • by DeadboltX (751907)
      A visible cop car is probably more likely to postpone criminal activity rather than prevent it entirely. In that instance, it is better to catch the criminal in the act than for the criminal to simply wait until the cops are too far to notice.
    • You could probably argue both sides pretty well.

      On one hand, you are stopping a crime from happening - that's good.

      However, if you allow the crime to happen, then arrest the the criminal, you are stopping that criminal from committing future crimes for the duration of his/her sentence - this also seems good.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      Prevent crime, obviously. Unless your goal is to increase coffers, then it's better to arrest after the fact.

      Which is why as citizens we must be ever vigilant against revenue generating actions. In fact, money gathered by the justice system should go into the general pool of money. The justice system should never, ever be used to pay for itself.

  • Had some interesting points to make but they're halfway not relevant so I removed them. Leaving these because they're just about relevant.

    The government at all levels can and does misuse this kind of data. They think giving "illegal" drugs to cancer patients is something worth prosecuting for. They're more interested in speed traps than stolen cars because one requires doing work and the other makes money.

    You know what doesn't require sophisticated algorithms to reduce crime? Increasing patrols in neig

    • by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

      What people forget about regarding speed traps is, they do give the opportunity to pull someone over and run their plates and license. To the police force, it makes sense that people who commit crimes are going to speed. Traffic duty is essentially a "search everyone you possibly can" exercise.

      I'm not defending it, especially since so many laws are dependent on what the officer thinks smells like alcohol or whatever else. A speeding ticket quickly turns into a car search, and you get an arrest out of it.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      "but that is also reactive rather than proactive"

      You've missed the point. What they might do NOW is send more patrols to areas where there was lots of crime last week. What they want to do is to send more patrols where there's going to be lots of crime THIS week. In other words, be "proactive" instead of "reactive."

  • It looks like you are writing a ransom note. The authorities have already been called, please remain where you are.
  • "The only way for us to continue to have crime reduction is to start anticipating where crime is going to occur." -- Lt. Sean Malinowski, Los Angeles Police Department

    "The only way ...?"

    Never trust a Social Engineer who asserts that their plan is "the only way".

  • by blahplusplus (757119) on Friday July 08, 2011 @10:26PM (#36701918)

    ... who gets to defining what a crime is?

    A lot of crime is self-inflicted by so called wealthier citizens upon themselves by neglecting their communities through greed and hoarding. Capitalist society ensures "crime" but much crime in capitalist society is clearly preventable with more equitable distribution of wealth. When people live necessitous lives

    You'd all do well to read FDR's economic bill of rights where he says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Bill_of_Rights [wikipedia.org]

    We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.”[2] People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

    In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

    Among these are:

    The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

    The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

    The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

    The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

    The right of every family to a decent home;

    The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

    The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

    The right to a good education.

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