What if the police knew when and where a crime was going to be committed and could respond to that area beforehand, in anticipation? And what if this wasn’t some plot line for a futuristic movie but instead a current reality? Well in Santa Cruz this practice is becoming a reality thanks to a 29 year old assistant professor of mathematics who developed an algorithm that can help predict crime.
Called “predictive policing”, this method uses math to formulate when and where a new crime is likely to occur. Since they began using this method, the system, which doesn’t yet have a name, has correctly predicted 40% of the crimes it was designed to track.
The algorithm is used to predict property crimes like thefts and burglaries, not violent offenses. It is said that once a criminal successfully executes a crime like this, he is likely to return to a similar place at a similar time to try it again. When and where depends on a variety of factors and that’s where the algorithm comes in. In Santa Cruz, the turnaround time for a second or third criminal attempt is four days.
George Mohler developed the program and was then featured in the Los Angeles Times. A crime analyst with the Santa Cruz police department, Zach Friend, contacted Mohler about working with the department, providing him with data from local crimes from 2002 to 2010. Now, new data is plugged into the system on a daily basis, reportedly increasing its accuracy.
Police are given a map of ten “hot spots” that they should be aware of everyday and while the system doesn’t give the officers probable cause to arrest someone, they can stop someone in these areas and ask questions in an attempt to prevent crimes or to gather information about offenses already committed.
We usually think of crimes as random acts. But this algorithm suggests it is not random at all. Those crimes that don’t involve an emotional and spontaneous element are likely planned out in advance and therefore, according to Friend, highly predictable.
Santa Cruz began using this method in July. Since then, burglaries have dropped 27%. No one can say for certain what role the system had in this falling rate, though police believe it is having a deterrent effect, according to the TPM Idea Lab.
The future of law enforcement is increasingly looking like a science fiction movie. Just how such technologies will play out in criminal courts will be interesting to see.
If you are facing criminal charges, it likely isn’t because the police predicted your offense in advance. However, you probably still have many questions about your case and your arrest. Contact our offices today to discuss the details of your case and how we might be able to help.