Law enforcement using analytical tools to predict crime

Software helps identify likely spikes in crime, but could it go too far?

Law enforcement agencies around the country are beginning to make use of predictive analysis software — until recently used mostly for business intelligence — to anticipate and prevent crime.

Police in Memphis, Tenn., are pioneering the approach, using IBM’s Blue CRUSH (Criminal Reduction Utilizing Statistical History) software to analyze crime and arrest data, and combine it with weather forecasts, economic factors, and information on events such as paydays and concerts to create predictive models, writes Lauren Cox in Technology Review.

It’s a trend that is slowly but steadily catching on. Police in Richmond, Va., and Chicago also are using, or have tested, predictive software. And in Roanoke, Va., police have created the Roanoke Area Criminal Justice Information Network (RACJIN), a multijurisdictional system that uses data analytics software to comb through the region’s law-enforcement data bases to better identify suspects.

The Defense Advanced research Projects Agency is putting its own twist on it, recently issuing a request for predictive algorithms that could be used to predict when troops could be at risk.

Related coverage:

Cops, collection agencies turn to data analytics

DARPA wants ‘precrime’ technology

Using predictive software, aside from giving rise to a lot of references to the movie “Minority Report,” helps give police a better idea of where to send patrols at any given time. Memphis police director Larry Godwin said that the software doesn’t let “pre-crime” officers arrest people before they commit a crime, as happens in the movie, but it does help predict such things a drug sales, gang violence and burglaries, according to Technology Review.

"It opens your eyes within the precinct," Godwin told Cox. "You can literally know where to put officers on a street in a given time."

Godwin said Memphis’ crime rate has dropped 30 percent since it starting using the software. Richmond also has reported similar results.

Memphis police have had calls and visits from police in Boston, Baltimore, Chattanooga, Tenn., and even as far away as Hong Kong and Estonia, asking about the software, writes Bartholomew Sullivan in AllBusiness.

Few would argue with more efficient law enforcement and crime prevention, but some wonder if the idea could be taken too far.

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has been using IBM’s software to predict which juvenile offenders are most likely to commit a crime again, then placing them into counseling and other programs to try to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Although the goal is to keep kids out of trouble, the idea of applying predictive analysis to individuals, rather than, say, high-crime neighborhoods, has raised the “Minorty Report” specter for some critics.

“While everything may seem driven by the desire to achieve better security, one single false positive would make the whole system unfair,” Jesus Diaz writes on Gizmodo. “And that's not even getting into the potential abuse of such a system.”


About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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