California Police Are Using Computers to Predict Crimes

Straight out of Minority Report, the Santa Cruz, CA, police department is using a computer program to predict where crimes will happen. Once the computer delivers the data, they send officers to those areas, before anyone reports a crime, to be ready in advance.

This computer program in place since July, 2011, when the department saw that police forces were dwindling due to funding, and because of that, crimes were naturally increasing. A group of mathematicians, anthropologists, and criminologists developed the software. The New York Times stated that the software uses an algorithm that is similar to that used for earthquake prediction:

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.

Those women were looking into cars in the garage and were arrested, not because of someone calling them in, but because a computer said that the area had a very good chance of a crime happening. After the women were taken into custody, they discovered that one woman had outstanding warrants, while the other was carrying illegal drugs. They were not charged for auto theft, but they were still taken to jail for the warrants and the illegal drugs.

Just to clarify any questions that you may have: the Santa Cruz police is not just using this system to catch criminals. Instead, the computer program divides Santa Cruz into 500×500 foot chunks and then it lists the top 10 areas for possible crime locations. When an officer is in the area and is not doing anything, he pays extra attention to those areas in case he notices anything out of place.  This would be amazing  if we could locate a future crime on a computer screen as easy as we determine when it’s going to rain.

New York Times