- CBS News - Sci-fi policing: predicting crime before it occurs
- Technology Review - L.A. Cops Embrace Crime-Predicting Algorithm
- Sci-TechToday.com - Predictive Policing Stops Crime Before It Occurs
These stories sparked a discussion over at the International Association of Crime Analysts mailing list.This list is a members only list that has quite a number of participants from academia to practitioners and all ranges in between. On thread on the topic I thought was interesting centered around the discussion of whether this type of technology could replace a crime analyst either now or in the future.
Years ago, in what sometimes seems like another life, I was a hard charging street cop in a mid sized agency of around 200 officers. I worked hard and got on our department's SWAT team and was a tactical officer for about seven years. Our agency's team regularly participated in the Texas Tactical Police Officers Association. We'd usually send several officers to the TTPOA conference every year. Like any good conference, there was always a vendor expo with vendors hawking all kinds of kit they though every tactical operator needed.
Many vendors had great gear. However, there were some vendors that weren't so great. In fact, it became kind of an inside joke among operators that for these less stellar vendors, they would take an ordinary product, paint it black, stick some velcro on it, and call it "tactical".
Often times vendors who sell things to government entities will hear a buzzword like "predictive policing" and then decide to jump on the buzzword bandwagon. In the field of crime analysis, the buzzword du jour seems to be "predictive policing". As news stories about predictive policing proliferate, we'll likely see an increase in vendors hawking their latest product that does predictive policing.
The problem with this is that predictive policing is a definition that's a broad as a barn door. Is predictive policing only valid if it's something like this: Self-Exciting Point Process Modeling of Crime? Or is predictive policing as simple as saying the guy that has robbed five pizza joints in your sleepy little burg almost always does it on Wednesdays and Thursdays between 9PM and midnight so I'll make a prediction that "I think he's going to hit again on Wednesday or Thursday from 9PM to midnight"?
Even more problematic is the idea that someone could get the idea that you can replace crime analysis with the latest whiz bang software. You might make your analyst's life easier with this kind of tool but I doubt that you're going to be able to replace an analyst with software, especially since the definition of what makes up predictive policing is not settled.
Just because you paint something black and stick velcro on it doesn't make it tactical. Neither does sticking a "predictive policing" label on the box make a crime analysis tool worthwhile.This is an emerging technology and I think it's going to be a while before it's a "crime analyst in a box".