When the Prediction Fits the Crime

It’s not quite Minority Report, but the L.A. Times reports that the LAPD is working with UCLA mathematicians to pursue a sophisticated form of predictive policing. In the not-too-distant future, “automated, detailed crime forecasts tailored to each of the department’s 21 area stations would be streamed several times a day to commanders,” with consolidating information from detectives, witnesses, suspects, and victims fed into a centralized database. Researchers George Mohler and Martin Short‘s models suggest “thinking of crimes the way seismologists think of earthquakes and aftershocks.” [%comments]


This sounds like a situation that would be ripe for an opposing statistical analysis. Using past statistical methods to predict future actions by people sounds risky, the problem is that the actions taken could impact the outcome and lead to results that seem supportive, but in-fact are just outcomes of the actions, not the statistics.


Does this not sound like the premise to the show "Numb3rs" on CBS to anyone else?


Looks like Chicago is trying the same thing: http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/2651492,CST-NWS-whizkid30.article


The majority of criminals and prisoners are repeat offenders.
This statement is just a description of the statistics you're writing about, with the operative word being "repeat."

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

The LA Lakers win the NBA Championship. Drunk riots break out. Someone dies. The Dodgers win. Riots and Death. IMF or World Bank Governors comes to LA, violent protests, riots, looting and someone dies. Rodney King Verdict is released, looting, rock throwing, fires, and death. You don't have to be a MatheMagician to Predict these crimes. Just pay attention to sports box scores and the jury docket. Thank God LA doesn't have a high caliber NFL Team and the Dodgers are middling.

There are critical violent groups like Anarchists, Street Gangs and Radical Islamists that should be penetrated and monitored. They are the mathematical odds for violence that even Las Vegas would game.


I would think that the cops already know the hot spots that they need to patrol. Would they trust a sheet of statistics over their gut instinct? I guess this would just be another tool at their disposal if their normal patrol is quiet.


Since we're talking predictions, here's mine: this exercise will give the title "Minority Report" an entirely different meaning, rendering any such project politically impractical.

Eric M. Jones

I'd just run a credit check on everybody. Those with low credit ratings are doing all the crime.


On the contrary Eric M. Jones, it's the people that have a great credit report that are doing the crimes, at least on Wall St. Of course some are bankers as well as insurance companies or brokerages. It all depends upon how you feel about soup! Some that like soup are wealthy and those that do not like soup poor. Personally, I can take it or leave it!


Map the STD cases. Done.

Ian Kemmish

As a general rule, crooks are better at hacking than cops are at computer security.

Any hacker worth his salt will be able to intercept the forecasts, which will tell him where police will be concentrating today - and more importantly, where they won't be. He'll then be able to sell this information to any burglars and muggers who might want it.

A variant of this scenario also always struck me as the biggest flaw in last year's briefly fashionable "online crime maps'. What happened to them?

Sacha Singh

I hope rocket scientists do better here than what they did in measuring risks of financial assets.


so much for the Consistution and being innocent until proven guilty.


Since they have a 'formula' to know where to go for crimes, couldn't a smart hacker break into the computer system and get that formula? Then they may know where police would be, and where they wouldn't.


This sounds like a violation of citizens' right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. The police aren't supposed to "predict" crimes. They are supposed to serve and protect by pursuing justice after the crimes have occurred. This sucks at times, but it's really important in protecting the rights of criminals, which are more often at risk than the rights of presumably law-abiding citizens/first time offenders. Not to sound alarmist, or to question the motives of the LAPD, but if we start infringing on the rights of an already at-risk group, then everyone else's rights are at risk, too.