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Crime Technology

The Increasing Role of Predictive Analysis In Police Work 180

Posted by samzenpus
from the before-it-happens dept.
elucido writes "A growing number of law enforcement agencies, in the US and elsewhere, have been adopting software tools with predictive analytics, based on algorithms that aim to predict crimes before they happen. From the article: 'Without some of the sci-fi gimmickry, police departments from Santa Cruz, California, to Memphis, Tennessee, and law enforcement agencies from Poland to Britain have adopted these new techniques. The premise is simple: criminals follow patterns, and with software — the same kind that retailers like Wal-Mart and Amazon use to determine consumer purchasing trends — police can determine where the next crime will occur and sometimes prevent it.'"
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The Increasing Role of Predictive Analysis In Police Work

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  • When prediction goes, one could always predict that, given a time frame, something will definitely happen - such as plane crash
     
    If TPTB is really interested in saving lives, they could have done more to predict future plane crashes and then do something to prevent it from happening
     

    • by FriendlyLurker (50431) on Monday July 30, 2012 @04:12AM (#40815419)

      > police can determine where the next crime will occur and sometimes prevent it

      No need to predict, why the heck have they not stormed the banks, arrested any of the significant financial fraudsters, yet? Oh... yeah, there is only Libery and Justice for some [salon.com]. Silly me.

      America’s two-tiered justice system – specifically, the way political and financial elites are now vested with virtually absolute immunity from the rule of law even when they are caught committing egregious crimes, while ordinary Americans are subjected to the world’s largest and one of its harshest and most merciless penal states even for trivial offenses. As a result, law has been completely perverted from what it was intended to be – the guarantor of an equal playing field which would legitimize outcome inequalities – into its precise antithesis: a weapon used by the most powerful to protect their ill-gotten gains, strengthen their unearned prerogatives, and ensure ever-expanding opportunity inequality.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It is apples and oranges. Crimes happen because of the opportunity and the ability to get away with it. If you can track these factors, you can predict where crimes will occur. Simple things like installing street lights and the intelligent deploying of police help to reduce crime. There are also items of a psychological nature like cleaning up graffiti, repairing roads and sidewalks, and planting trees that make criminals think they are in an area where it is harder to get away with a crime.

      Crime is very m

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Crimes happen because of the opportunity and the ability to get away with it.

        Only if you have no morals. If your moral code says that a certain outlawed activity is not immoral, then yes. But most people are honest and will NOT steal.

        I see you are not one of the honest people.

        Crime is very much an economic force.

        What's the economic incentive to grow weed for your own consumption?

        While the actors involved aren't always particularly intelligent

        90% of all crimes are unsolved, so obviously 90% of the criminals

    • I actually worked on predicting when aircraft will malfunction (and crash) and we had a huge database with
      everything that happened to the planes to work for, and we didn't get much results.
      So upper management brought in a highly paid consultant, which crunched our data for 6 months.
      He finally gathered everyone in a conference room to announce his amazing results,
      he found an outstanding correlation: planes that fly a lot are more likely to malfunction or crash then planes that don't fly.

      • by Tom (822)

        You forgot to tell what management did after his announcement. Ground the fleet?

  • I thought Tom Cruise tried that already and how that worked out, huh?

  • by rolfwind (528248) on Monday July 30, 2012 @02:20AM (#40814939)

    I imagine patrol cops go where they expect some action may occur (or to stops that offer cheap food/drink for the uniformed). This sounds like a higher tech version of that, basically taking the instincts out of the equation and substituting it with statistics. Perhaps adds more coordination at the central office level too although I'm sure that also already occurs.

    • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Monday July 30, 2012 @02:25AM (#40814967) Journal

      It all boils down to statistical analysis

      Let's say you own a grocery store, and there's one particular item that shoplifters like to steal

      You, as the owner, can do one of three things -

      A. Stop carrying that item in your store

      B. Keep that thing close to the counter to cut down on shoplifting

      C. Fix a hidden vid cam near where you put the thing and start recording
       

      • I personally prefer a trap that would spring when the item was stuffed down someones pants, keep the people from breeding :P
        • by sohmc (595388)

          Your humor notwithstanding, in some jurisdictions, it's not considered shoplifting until the suspect leaves the premises. Trapping them could be considered unlawful detainment.

          However, in some jurisdictions, a store owner may hold a person who is suspected to have shoplifted. I believe the words are "reasonable suspicion" or some other legal term. They can't hold the person indefinitely though. Usually it's enough time for the police to arrive.

          • The legal term you're looking for is called "shopkeeper's privilege [wikipedia.org]," and it has evolved -- in some jurisdictions -- from the right to challenge shoplifters to being basically indistiguishable from police powers with immunity from lawsuits and prosecution.

            If you've noticed the ridiculously increased militarization of your local mall security, this is one of the reasons why. When one of those Seth-Rogen-Wanna-Be's cracks your skull with a nightstick, this is why the lawsuits you file will be dismissed.

            It's n

    • by man_of_mr_e (217855) on Monday July 30, 2012 @02:32AM (#40815001)

      Ok, so first, if the crime doesn't happen, how do you know you prevented it? Maybe it just didn't happen.

      Second, doesn't this seem like there will now be a market for anti-prediction? That is, find out where the cops think the crime will occur, and do the crime somewhere else. Because the cops will be somewhere else, your chances of getting caught are less.

      • by Raptoer (984438) on Monday July 30, 2012 @03:45AM (#40815299)

        Ok, so first, if the crime doesn't happen, how do you know you prevented it? Maybe it just didn't happen.

        .

        You don't look at individual crimes, you take a selection of areas with similar crime statistics, implement the prediction system in some of them, then see how the crime rates change.

        Second, doesn't this seem like there will now be a market for anti-prediction? That is, find out where the cops think the crime will occur, and do the crime somewhere else. Because the cops will be somewhere else, your chances of getting caught are less

        Perhaps there will be a market for anti-prediction, but the types of crimes that this aims to prevent (or even just be more response to calls about) aren't usually done by sophisticated criminals. Any anti-prediction system would first have to be able to aggregate crime statistics then apply the prediction algorithm, then find areas outside the predicted zones. If you have all that already, you might as well just sell the prediction algorithm to the police rather than make an unethical program that has a very small (and secretive) user base that wouldn't pay much for your system in the first place.

      • by silanea (1241518)

        Ok, so first, if the crime doesn't happen, how do you know you prevented it? Maybe it just didn't happen.

        You look not at one single crime but at the crime rate for a specific location and crime category. If the rate decreases after you start your prediction-based policing and the crime rate for this category does not increase in another area during the same time (interestingly this is one step proponents of public video surveillance very often happen to overlook), then your approach very likely has prevented such crimes in the targeted area.

        • That's not what the article said. It talked specifically about preventing the specific crime that was predicted.

          Hey, I don't have to predict anything to lower crime rates. Find the places that have the worst crime, and flood the streets with cops. Done. That's the same thing that you're suggesting.

          • by cayenne8 (626475)

            Hey, I don't have to predict anything to lower crime rates. Find the places that have the worst crime, and flood the streets with cops. Done.

            Unfortunately, these days...when they try to do that, they get covered up with complaints of profiling or some other ethinc outcry.

            At least with a system like this...they can now point to something 'fancy and computerized' that backs up the arguments they've had all along...

      • If you have technology to predict where crimes are going to take place, selling it to the police is going to be way, WAY more profitable than using it to commit crimes.

      • by nospam007 (722110) *

        "Ok, so first, if the crime doesn't happen, how do you know you prevented it? Maybe it just didn't happen."

        Exactly. Cops have no interest in preventing crime since they are evaluated by how they apprehend the criminals and how many of them.
        They'll just use any advance knowledge they'll get, to be in position when the crime occurs to catch the criminals, not to force them to do another crime in a less predictable way.

        • by tnk1 (899206)

          Sounds like a broken window fallacy to me.

          Cops do get rated on their ability to make arrests, but there's so much crime out there in comparison to cops, that there is no benefit to cops in allowing it to happen if they can stop it. There may well be small-town places where crime is low, but usually that is dealt with by having lower numbers of police staff or even different sorts of "quotas".

          Further, if they are moving their units to high-risk areas to only stop crimes in progress or that have been committ

        • "Ok, so first, if the crime doesn't happen, how do you know you prevented it? Maybe it just didn't happen."

          Exactly. Cops have no interest in preventing crime since they are evaluated by how they apprehend the criminals and how many of them. They'll just use any advance knowledge they'll get, to be in position when the crime occurs to catch the criminals, not to force them to do another crime in a less predictable way.

          Police are evaluated on the crime rates, and the percentage of violent crimes solved, the only other arrest that are made public is for DUI checkpoints. Crime rates are used to evaluate a city and their police force arrests are simply not used by the public when deciding on police bonds.

      • by Tom (822)

        Ok, so first, if the crime doesn't happen, how do you know you prevented it? Maybe it just didn't happen.

        The real world is slightly complicated, so it really depends.

        In some cases, the guy who went shopping with his shotgun in hand is a pretty good indicator, even if after noticing the nearby cops he just buys a beer.

        In other cases, like property crimes, you can wait until a predicted crime happens and arrest the criminal on the spot.

        In many cases, statistics will provide the answer - if you double patrols in some area and crime rate drops considerably, you can check for other effects (say, unemployment in the

      • by Thelasko (1196535)

        Ok, so first, if the crime doesn't happen, how do you know you prevented it? Maybe it just didn't happen.

        The simplest answer is a Double Blind Study [wikipedia.org]

        I use a similar modeling technique to tune engines. Their model must have police presence as one of its input factors, since it's the only factor the police can control directly. Before they implement this system, they should perform a "sweep" of this input to establish a correlation.(i.e. vary the amount of police presence) Once the model is created, an optimization algorithm can be used to determine the most effective use of police resources. (i.e. maximiz

    • by perpenso (1613749) on Monday July 30, 2012 @02:38AM (#40815031)

      I imagine patrol cops go where they expect some action may occur (or to stops that offer cheap food/drink for the uniformed). This sounds like a higher tech version of that, basically taking the instincts out of the equation and substituting it with statistics. Perhaps adds more coordination at the central office level too although I'm sure that also already occurs.

      Technically a good cop with good instincts is applying statistics. The human brain is built to recognize patterns and to use those patterns to make predictions. Some of this is done at a subconscious level. So its not that we are necessarily introducing statistics, its seems more that we are using a much larger data set to mine patterns from. Still, as you say, a high tech version of what we already do.

      • by Raptoer (984438) on Monday July 30, 2012 @03:38AM (#40815275)

        Unfortunately individual police officers were drawing from a much smaller pool of data which was then put through their personal biases. If an officer had a racial or cultural bias then they may perceive an area as having more crime, when the actual statistics don't match.

      • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Monday July 30, 2012 @06:38AM (#40815983)

        Technically a good cop with good instincts is applying statistics. The human brain is built to recognize patterns and to use those patterns to make predictions. Some of this is done at a subconscious level. So its not that we are necessarily introducing statistics, its seems more that we are using a much larger data set to mine patterns from. Still, as you say, a high tech version of what we already do.

        Very true. I cop friend of mine often gets asked "how did you know it was me?" and his answer is "because you always commit crime x by doing y."Ashe puts it, most criminals are stupid, or at least we only catch the stupid ones. This analysis just builds on what people's brain does naturally, with a more robust data set as you point out. Plus, it never forgets a crime.

    • I imagine patrol cops go where they expect some action may occur

      Provided it occurs in the richer enclaves where the Officer Bob bully routine is easily done, yes. But I suspect even in moderately-sized urban areas, there are implicit no-go zones for beat cops, lest they get got.

    • by nbauman (624611)

      They were doing it with computers in New York City since about 1980. It's called Compstat. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compstat [wikipedia.org]

      Before that, they were doing it with maps and pushpins.

      There's a similar situation in medicine. Atul Gawande had an article in the New Yorker on using a Compstat-style system for hospitals to find the patients who had the greatest need. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/01/24/110124fa_fact_gawande [newyorker.com]

      The doctor Gawande interviewed said, “For all the stupid, expensive, predi

    • by mrmeval (662166)

      Cops have been doing this for some time. There is always a section in any metropolitan police department that does such analysis. They are expected not to catch crooks but stop crime. Such analysis can be effectively used to position police departments in the right area to deter crime.

      It is also unfortunately used to move officers around to enhance traffic tickets by analyzing slumps in tickets they know when drivers have adapted and will move to fresh pickings.

  • Thieves will learn to mix it up, such as tossing dice on a map.

    • You are assuming here, that thieves are actually smart enough to do so. Most common crime thieves simply lack the brain power to randomize their victims, M.O. and such and not pee their pants at the same time.

      Unfortunately, society can't or won't afford catching smart thieves and most methods used by law enforcement in general only catch criminals that make obvious mistakes. The smarter thieves usually end up in politics, banking or the stock market.

    • If you want to catch a criminal, you need to think like a criminal

      To be successful, you, as a criminal, must know your victim's vulnerability - either they are alone, weak, or they are far away from others' ear shot .... and ... this is important - the place you commit your crime must be familiar to you - or it wouldn't be so easy for you to get away - and in cases involving murder - you, as a criminal, must also know where to dump/bury/hide the body before you commit the murder

      Many times crimes were solved

      • by Sulphur (1548251)

        If you want to catch a criminal, you need to think like a criminal

        To be successful, you, as a criminal, must know your victim's vulnerability - either they are alone, weak, or they are far away from others' ear shot .... and ... this is important - the place you commit your crime must be familiar to you - or it wouldn't be so easy for you to get away - and in cases involving murder - you, as a criminal, must also know where to dump/bury/hide the body before you commit the murder

        Many times crimes were solved because of the sheer sloppiness of the criminals

        As for throwing dice on the map - I'm afraid it would not be easy - unless of course, the new location happens to be a familiar spot for the criminal

        Sorry Fred, you have to knock over the coffee kitty at police headquarters.

      • If you want to catch a criminal, you need to think like a criminal

        And if you want to evade police, you need to think like the police. I.e. run their algorithm, and commit your crime where the algorithm says it is least likely...

        • by ultranova (717540)

          And if you want to evade police, you need to think like the police. I.e. run their algorithm, and commit your crime where the algorithm says it is least likely...

          You need not only the algorithm but also its input to predict the output. And if you have the know-how to get both, why would you prey on people at street corners instead of stealing credit card info online? It's a crime with lower risks and higher profits and you can do it from the comfort of an office rather than in the streets.

          • It can only be a matter of time before the wealthier criminal elements (drug gangs for example) are buying list of "places to avoid this month because the prediction systems told us to put more cops there" from the less honest members of the force...

    • by Teun (17872)
      Yeah when I come out I'll never again use Google Earth to zoom in on that mansion the same day a bought a sledge hammer and a balaclava...
  • by geogob (569250) on Monday July 30, 2012 @02:34AM (#40815023)

    The software checks if person of interest holds a Facebook account. Voilà! If he or she doesn't, it should mean he/she will commit mass murder. Couldn't be easier, I guess...

    • by Taco Cowboy (5327)

      The software checks if person of interest holds a Facebook account. VoilÃ! If he or she doesn't, it should mean he/she will commit mass murder. Couldn't be easier, I guess...

       
      I guess the cops should arrest all those new-born babies - they don't have their fb accounts yet, or do they?
       

  • by hoggoth (414195) on Monday July 30, 2012 @02:55AM (#40815103) Journal

    Start by rounding up all those suspicious Facebook abstainers!

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      But how can you contact them? Or get to know them for starters? After all they don't have a Facebook account!

  • Wasnt this an episode of Numb3rs?

  • I hear this is working pretty well for them. They've already discovered that people who don't use facebook are mass murderers in training [slashdot.org]. The real challenge is trying to figure out who these people are, what they look like, what they are doing, and how much gold they have in Farmville, because the software is currently only able to figure this out for people who are on facebook. This is also made more difficult by the fact that people who don't use facebook are more likely to be intelligent, self-aware,
    • by Taco Cowboy (5327)

      ... exhibit a phenomenon known as "free will," which wreaks havoc on their predictive models

       
      You would be surprised that no matter how much "free will" those of us who do not use fb exhibit, there are still patents that are traceable, and predictable
       
      We are, after all, still human beings
       

  • by guttentag (313541) on Monday July 30, 2012 @03:25AM (#40815209) Journal
    Quoted verbatim from the article:

    “When police departments are laying more sworn personnel, they can do more with less."

    I would never have thought to try that. If you get more personnel laid, they can do more with less? Just think how much more productive programmers could be under such a system!

  • ...rather than the 48 hours to solve a crime (before the chief busts them down to traffic duty so fast their heads will spin), they have 48 minutes.

  • by Smask (665604)
    So they copied and automated an idea from "Idoru" by William Gibson. Colin Laney, a guy who earns his living by manually sifting thru data to find dirt on media personalities. He finds a woman who is about to commit suicide, if I recall it correctly.
  • Going on the assumption of the predictative accuracy of this technology what ethical imperative does the government have to reengineer these situations to make crime not tempting or not an option?

    • >Going on the assumption of the predictative accuracy of this technology what ethical imperative does the government have to reengineer these situations to make crime not tempting or not an option?

      That depends entirely on the nature of the reengineering.
      If you find that crime is more common in areas with particularly bad or underfunded schools and you respond by improving funding and management of those schools you are reducing the amount of drop-outs who become criminals. None of this includes any incr

    • Stay on that train of thought, and eventually you end up at the same place Thomas More did in 1516 with "Utopia." More noted that the Crown created thieves be depriving people of both education and any possible livelihood, and then punished those same people with shocked outrage when they stole the food they had no other means of getting.

      More went on to note that people who have been made desperate often do desperate things, and that keeping large numbers of ill-restrained, overly-armed men scattered throug

  • Speeding tickets since "sarcasm on" speeding laws are about safety and not revenue enhancement "sarcasm off"
  • by kenp2002 (545495) on Monday July 30, 2012 @07:55AM (#40816359) Homepage Journal

    We call it statistical 'profiling' and it happens to be illegal apparently.

  • It was my understanding that 'frisk and/or harass the undesirables' has been a well-understood police work technique more or less as long as there has been such an institution... Is this 'predictive analysis' with its fancy computer machines and numbers and things actually a genuinely novel angle, or is it largely the process of paying IBM to build a model that provides an objective, scientific, reason you can give for doing what you are doing if anybody complains?

    The case of New York comes to mind, a city

  • crime revolves around low education, social inequality, and cyclical poverty from low employment rates.

    I can write that into perl, bash, python, or even C if you like, and i accept cash or check.

  • Walmart tracks every purchase by each customer. They know minute by minute when to expect something will sell. Why then, are there only 2 out of 35 registers open when I go to checkout at 6pm on a friday? :-/
  • It is not the job of the police to prevent crime. Nor is it their job to protect you as an individual. (don't believe me? check with SCOTUS.) Regardless, the only reason anyone is even working on predictive analysis is because the public is demanding it.

    The job of the police is to take reports, conduct investigations, and apprehend suspects. If an individual officer feels it is his/her duty to help someone out, or protect them, then that's wonderful and I'm glad there are officers willing to do that. Howeve

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