California police using computers to predict crimes

California's Santa Cruz police force is performing a little experiment: using computer programs to predict where crimes will occur, and then sending officers to those areas before any incidents are reported, just like in Minority Report.

The program has been running since July, and was started after SCPD officials saw their police force dwindling while crimes being called in were increasing. It was created by mathematicians, an anthropologist and a criminologist, and works a lot like an algorithm used for earthquake prediction, according to the New York Times:

Based on models for predicting aftershocks from earthquakes, it generates projections about which areas and windows of time are at highest risk for future crimes by analyzing and detecting patterns in years of past crime data. The projections are recalibrated daily, as new crimes occur and updated data is fed into the program.

On the day the women were arrested, for example, the program identified the approximately one-square-block area where the parking garage is situated as one of the highest-risk locations for car burglaries.

The pair of women mentioned were "peering into cars in a downtown parking garage," which officers had been sent to not because someone called it in, but because the computer simulation predicted that there was a good chance a crime would be committed there. The women were taken into custody and "one woman was found to have outstanding warrants; the other was carrying illegal drugs." While they couldn't have been charged with a crime they didn't commit, it's interesting that the potential crime essentially did them in.

Crime prediction on this scale is a fresh field, but not one isolated to Santa Cruz (though it does sound like Santa Cruz has one of the fanciest setups). The forecast program is re-calibrated with new crime reports every day, pulls from eight years of crime data and breaks down Santa Cruz into 500-foot-by-500-foot chunks. It then gives officers a list of the top 10 spots for crimes to occur that day, and officers can drop by them while not performing other duties.

According to a police captain involved with the program, predicting crime and acting accordingly may one day be as ordinary as weather forecasting.

New York Times, via Neatorama

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