According to statistics from the FBI, criminal mischief is on the decline for the fourth consecutive year. And law enforcement officers across the country are working hard to keep that trend going.
But let’s face it. Every now and then, the good guys could use a strategic advantage.
Well, researchers at the University of California think they can provide just that.
Thanks to some clever numbers analysis, the team believes they can put police at the scene of a crime… before it ever happens.
Let me explain…
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The UC researchers have developed a mathematical algorithm capable of pinpointing criminal hotspots.
It’s based on an interesting discovery made by mathematician, George Mohler. You see, his research shows that patterns of criminal activity closely resemble aftershocks following an earthquake.
In other words, people tend to commit illegal acts in close proximity to previous crimes – just like earthquakes are more likely to strike in close pairs.
Essentially, Mohler’s algorithm gathers information from recent crime reports and spits out potential danger zones. With such information, patrol cars can linger in those locations to dissuade would-be criminals from taking action.
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According to New Scientist, “On average the program predicted the location and time of 25% of actual burglaries that occurred on any particular day in an area of Los Angeles in 2004 and 2005, using just the data on burglaries that had occurred before that day.”
So it’s a far cry from perfect. But with its potential to provide law enforcement with even the slightest edge in fighting crime, it’s a damn good start.
Now it’s time to see how well this prediction system holds up on the streets…
Time for California Criminals to Take a Vacation
Police in Santa Cruz, California are currently testing the effectiveness of the algorithm.
Their program generates ten potential areas to keep an eye on for the day. And at the end of a shift, officers punch their arrests into the system so the algorithm can pinpoint the next round.
If Santa Cruz doesn’t sound like the best place for a study of this kind, just wait. Mohler plans to bring his algorithm to Los Angeles in the coming weeks.
Officers there will only be dispatched to half of the locations flagged by the algorithm. That way they can compare criminal activity in the staked-out areas against the spots they ignored to see if their presence does indeed prevent transgressions.
Of course, broader adoption depends on how the test goes in L.A.
But hopefully this research means that in the near future, we’ll see more officers stationed where real (i.e. – violent) crimes might occur, instead of parked on the shoulder aiming a radar gun.