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TPM Idea Lab

Santa Cruz Cops Experiment With ‘Predictive Policing’

The police department in Santa Cruz, California, has begun an experiment that uses a mathematical algorithm to predict when and where certain crimes will be committed, and puts police on the scene before they happen.

So far police have arrested five people using this technique of "predictive policing" and the rates of certain categories of crimes in the city have dropped significantly, perhaps as a result. The program has correctly predicted 40 percent of the crimes it was designed to monitor.

Police departments have said that programs such as these, if proved to be reliable, could help them to deploy their resources more efficiently.

Unlike Philip K. Dick’s novel "The Minority Report" or the film inspired by the novel, the program relies on algorithms, and not mutants to predict the likelihood of something happening.

The program comes from the field of applied mathematics or operations research, and the algorithm was developed by a 29-year-old mathematician at Santa Clara University.

Other mathematical techniques have been developed to predict crimes, most famously Compstat, used in the mid-90s by the New York City Police Department to track serious crimes, like those depicted in the the Minority Report. The Santa Cruz program, which does not appear to have a name, concentrates on property crimes, such as car break-ins and burglaries.

The program was developed by George Mohler, an assistant professor of mathematics…

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