Cop shows up for roll call before patrolling the beat. On her department-issued tablet is a map showing where on her beat crime will likely occur. The map is annotated by notes from veteran cops.

She spends a little more time in those spots, maybe talks up some of the locals about what’s happening. Maybe the predictions  heighten her observations of people in these areas and she learns something actionable. Maybe just by being there she cools tensions. Maybe some of her chats with the residents dissuades them from something. Maybe crime declines by chance.

That’s not some deleted scene from Minority Report, or a scenario from Person of Interest, that’s happening right now, at least according to the marketing hype of PredPol’s site. Its customers claim that it is better than human-based prediction, and a useful tool.

Has this been properly tested to minimize the possibility that the results are not a matter of random chance, or that the Hawthorne Effect is in play? The Predpol site has some results, but they don’t come close to satisfying a social scientist. If it does work, what happens when programs like it improve? And what if it can expand beyond property crimes? What if that cop visits a house the day before a domestic disturbance would occur and prevents an assault or even a death?

Predicting where crime will take place
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One thought on “Predicting where crime will take place

  • July 5, 2012 at 9:55 am

    Very interesting post; I’ll have to check out this show/website. This also brings into question whether artificial intelligence has the capacity to predict a seemingly infinite number (N) order of consequences, and to what end. For instance, if you stop a crime from happening before it occurs, but the result is a crime across the street, which you stop, resulting in a crime to the house next door, etc. Then again, I don’t see why it couldn’t. Eventually, however, odds are the system would need to make some sort of quantifiable, value-based judgment on the lesser of 2, 3,…X evils. Perhaps requiring the prediction of a crime-based butterfly effect. For the sake of lowering crime rates, could society accept that child A getting hit by a train is indeed more worth saving then child B?

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