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Predictive Policing and Big Data

Predictive Policing and Big Data

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Published by Bob Gourley
CTOlabs report on Predictive Policing and Big Data. Learn the latest research on this potentially very virtuous application of modern technologies to public safety.
CTOlabs report on Predictive Policing and Big Data. Learn the latest research on this potentially very virtuous application of modern technologies to public safety.

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Published by: Bob Gourley on Sep 21, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Law Enforcement and Data Driven Policing
Law enforcement methodology has evolved tremendously in the past fewdecades to embrace quantitative analysis and statistics with the rise of data-driven policing. Now, law enforcement strategy is poised to take another leapforward with Big Data and predictive policing. Already, departments facing risingcrime but falling budgets have turned to Big Data analytics to supplement theinstincts of their officers and make patrols more proactive rather than reactive.Though much work remains to be done, advances in predictive policing have thepotential to let law enforcement agencies do more with less and prevent crimerather than simply respond to it.Patrol is the backbone of law enforcement, the largest use of departmentpersonnel and resources as well as the source of the majority of officer interactions with the community and hence has the greatest potential to reducecrime. Despite the perception of the old-fashioned “beat cop,” patrol hasrepeatedly been redefined through new technology. The introduction of 911,police cars, and radios first marginalized foot patrol and, especially in more activedepartments, made patrol primarily responsive, driven by calls for service. Whenofficers did get the chance to patrol freely, working to reduce crime rather thanrespond to it, their “beats” would be determined by administrative divisions, areasthey could reasonably cover, and, at best, “primal policing” based on experienceand instinct.
Then the 1990s saw the rise of a new process and philosophy often calledCompStat (short for Comparative Statistics or Computer Statistics, depending onthe department). CompStat was pioneered by the New York Police Department.The department began keeping careful statistics on crimes, arrests, contacts,and other law enforcement metrics, then plotting them on a map and tying themto strategy and accountability. High crime areas got more attention and initiativeswere judged by quantifiable performance. The links between CompStat and theremarkable decline in crime that followed are complex, confounded by numerousfactors such as declining use and sale of crack cocaine and other simultaneouslyimplemented strategies, but departments nationwide adopted CompStat as wellas data and intelligence-driven approaches to patrol. A greater reliance onanalysis and tracking helped make departments more efficient and effective andstandardized the practices of the most insightful patrol officers while weeding outfailing approaches.CompStat, however, was still by its nature reactive. Though it is often safe toassume high-crime areas are more likely to have crime in the future, agencieswere still reacting to recent or historical trends rather than intervening inemerging or future patterns of crime because all of the data came from past
events. While police departments aim to punish lawbreakers, the ideal situationwould be to prevent the crime from happening in the first place. In theory, this isthe purpose of patrol, but even with CompStat, all but the most insightful andinspired officers were limited to patrolling areas where crime had been committedin the past in hopes of discouraging it in the future.Certain crimes, however, lent themselves to modeling and prediction. Propertycrime is a prime example as it is largely driven by slowly changing or staticlocation-specific factors such as accessibility, relative wealth, and level of security. As UCLA mathematician George Mohler noticed, changes in crimemaps over time resemble other natural phenomenon, leading him to modifyalgorithms used to predict aftershocks to instead predict future property crimesfrom past data. Mohler’s models consistently outperformed traditional heatmapsand hotspots, leading Santa Cruz to launch a six-month experiment thatconcluded in predictive policing reversing rising property crime despite havingfewer officers on the force.
The Santa Cruz Experiment
The basic premise for the Santa Cruz experiment has become a typical approachfor predictive policing, which has since been tried from Los Angeles to the UnitedKingdom. These models compare past crimes - in the Santa Cruz experimentabout 5,000 were used - to project locations for future offenses. Runningcomplicated algorithms on even 5,000 data points, many fewer than can beutilized by large departments like the LAPD, is a tremendous computationalendeavor that requires comparing the time and place of each crime with everyother, considering 5,000 factorial events or 5,000 times 4,999 times 4,998 etc. And, to make the model predictive, these calculations have to be updated in realtime as new crimes occur. More complex models may also take into accountother factors such as the locations of ATMs, bus routes, and local weather. Theresult is advanced algorithms performing complicated computations on massive,varied, evolving data sets, making Predictive Policing an ambitious application of Big Data. At first glance, theresults of thepredictive policingalgorithms used bydepartments likeSanta Cruz lookvery similar to thecrime heatmapsand hotspotsproduced byanalysts usingCompStat. In
: Heat maps are common in
most predictive policing applications

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