Envision the Houston Police Department in the Future

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Police departments throughout the country are adopting a statistical approach to policing that can help predict when and where crimes are likely to occur. Utilizing public data sets on everything from school schedules to home foreclosures and correlating them with crime stats, analysts can spot surprising patterns that help departments anticipate problems and identify emerging hot spots. Here is a look at 4 cities that are using the latest technology to get a jump on the bad guys.

Memphis

University of Memphis criminologists and local police combined business-analytics software with geotagged data to create a tool they have called Blue Crush. It takes in crime reports and layers in variables like weather, lighting conditions, and proximity to concert venues, along with reporting from PDA-equipped beat cops, to find connections. For example, the system noticed that colleges’ spring-break week reliably spawns a rash of burglaries.

Los Angeles

The LAPD uses ‘reaction-diffusion’ models to predict actual crime patterns and suggest preventive strategies as well as figure out where to deploy extra patrols. According to UCLA anthropologist Jeffrey Brantingham, reaction-diffusion modelling can explain the incidence of opportunistic crimes like burglary and car theft.

Minneapolis

A crime analysis unit identifies locations where gun crimes have been reported – not just robberies and shootings, but also gun thefts and illicit possession. Afterwards, it factors in geographic details on things like bus routes and proximity to parks, liquor stores, and public libraries. (Gang bangers frequent libraries for free internet access). Combining all that data helps the unit predict when certain parks will become trigger points for gun violence.

Arlington

Police in Dallas mapp residential break-ins against building code violations and found that crime skyrockets around building structures in need of major repair. For every ‘unit’ of physical decay – even cosmetic things like broken windows, graffiti, and abandoned cars – there were six burglaries. Police have begun working with other city agencies to clean up areas that the maps flag as “fragile neighborhoods”.

Original story appeared in Wired, “Criminal Intent”, December 2011.

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