Predictive Policing: Preventing Crime with Data and Analytics


Predictive Policing: Preventing Crime with Data and Analytics

Friday, April 11th, 2014 - 12:39
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The history of quantitative crime analysis spans centuries. Crime mapping first appeared in the 19th century.

In 1829, an Italian geographer and French statistician designed the first maps that visualized crime data. The maps included three years of property crime data as well as education information obtained from France’s census. The maps revealed a positive correlation between these two layers of information; areas with higher levels of education experienced a higher incidence of property crimes.

The discipline of crime analysis emerged following the formation of London’s Metropolitan Police, the first organized law enforcement service. The service’s detective branch, formed in 1842, was tasked with using pattern recognition to prevent and solve crimes. Formal police departments were established throughout the U.S. in the 1850s, though their use of analytical techniques lagged behind London’s.

In 1900, the U.S. federal government began collecting national data that aided the development of crime statistics. Mortality statistics, which indicate the cause of death, were used to calculate homicide rates. Additional measures, such as prison rates and arrest data, were collected by cities and states during the 1920s. In 1930, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was given the authority to collect and disseminate crime data. The FBI continues to publish Crime in the United States annually, and this comprehensive publication served as the chief data input for crime analysis models in the latter half of the 20th century.

With the advent of affordable computers, both police organizations and scholars began to explore automated crime mapping. Academic researchers investigated the relationship between environmental characteristics and the incidence for crime. Sociologists, for example, used mapping to uncover a quantifiable, causal relationship between the presence of taverns and the incidence of violent and property crimes. Police forces initially hoped crime mapping would serve as a means of improving resource allocation’s efficiency. The technical and personnel demands of mapping, however, prevented police departments from integrating this tool into everyday police work until recently.

Today, the availability of massive data sets, data storage, sophisticated software, and personnel that can both perform analyses and communicate actionable recommendations to officers in the field has rendered crime analysis a central component of modern policing. Further, collaborative efforts between police officers, scholars, and businesses have led to the development of analytical techniques that have strong theoretical foundations; accompanying tools, such as software programs, enable their widespread use.

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