Science fiction stories are usually the setting when people talk about predicting crimes. But it appears that the police department in Santa Cruz is working with an academic in order to forecast where crimes will take place:
Santa Cruz police could be the first department in Northern California that will deploy officers based on forecasting.
Santa Clara University assistant math professor Dr. George Mohler said the same algorithms used to predict aftershocks from earthquakes work to predict crime.”We started with theories from sociological and criminological fields of research that says offenders are more likely to return to a place where they’ve been successful in the past,” Mohler said.
To test his theory, Mohler plugged in several years worth of old burglary data from Los Angeles. When a burglary is reported, Mohler’s model tells police where and when a so-called “after crime” is likely to occur.
The Santa Cruz Police Department has turned over 10 years of crime data to Mohler to run in the model.
I wonder if we will be able to read about the outcome of this trial, regardless of whether the outcome is good or bad. If the outcome is bad, perhaps the police department or the academic would not want to publicize the results.
On one hand, this simply seems to be a problem of getting enough data to make accurate enough predictions. On the other hand, there will always be some error in the predictions. For example, how could a model predict something like what happened in Arizona this past weekend? Of course, one could include some random noise into the model – but these random guesses could easily be wrong.
And knowing the location of where crime would happen doesn’t necessarily mean that the crime could be prevented.