Numb3rs: In Real Life

Filed in National by on September 6, 2011

In Santa Cruz, police are using computer models to predict when and where crime is likely to occur. They’re using algorithms that are related to software that predicts aftershocks.

The current, real world test of the software involves generating a map of the city areas most likely to be burglarized, the time of day they are most likely to get hit, and deploying personnel accordingly. The software is recalibrated every day when burglaries from the previous day are added to the dataset.


The police officers arrived at the parking garage in downtown Santa Cruz and spotted two women behaving suspiciously. No crime had been committed, but peering through the windows of the parked cars was sketchy enough. The officers questioned the women: one had outstanding warrants; the other was in possession of illegal drugs.

What’s strange about this scenario is that no one had called the cops. In fact, the cops didn’t even know that the women would be there, just that the probability of a crime being committed at that location, at that time of day, was especially high. In one of the first cases of ‘predictive policing,’ law enforcement were able to calculate where the criminals would be and arrest them before the crime could be committed.


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A Dad, a husband and a data guru

Comments (10)

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  1. socialistic ben says:

    Minority Report was an awful movie and would be an even more awful reality. I say someone walks by this building with a very strong magnet.

  2. Jason330 says:

    I predict that Bankers are going to steal another $5 trillion this year.

    Good thing we have computer models that predict when a $30.00 CD player is about to get pinched out of someone’s car.

  3. Aoine says:

    “……..arrest them before the crime could be committed….”

    OK – I’ll bite – what would the charge be exactly and Id like to see the standard of evidence on those charges…

  4. Aoine says:

    I think about a lot of things – namely chocking the shit out of people that annoy me – thats why Im always smiling….

    or wishing idiot drivers would blow away – along with T-baggers

    but I dont DO it….wishing is still free

  5. Jason330 says:

    Our crime fighting resources are largely dedicated to hassling poor people, so there is always something to charge them with.

    In this case it was for drug possession and having outstanding warrants.

  6. liberalgeek says:

    Yeah, this is a crappy example. I wish there were some sort of program where they would simply increase the visibility of the cops at these spots to deter crime. Of course, the criminals would likely just move somewhere else and it would screw up their model.

    I got no time for people that break into cars and steal stuff, but I also don’t like hassling people because they look guilty at a place where a computer tells me there is a likelihood of criminal activity. Jason is right, we should spend our crime fighting dollars on sending an accountant with a badge to hassle guys in suits at companies that have too-good-to-be-true returns on investments, not sending a guy with a gun to hassle people that look suspicious at the mall.

  7. Geezer says:

    If the police are telling the truth — always a gamble, but go with me here — then the women were engaged in suspicious activity by scoping out the contents of parked cars. The cops could have waited longer for one of them to act, but it’s not as if these women were simply strolling from their cars to their destination.

  8. liberalgeek says:

    Yeah, and admiring a nice leather steering wheel cover with a cool beaded seat cover. Not to mention some killer fuzzy dice.

  9. Miscreant says:

    This is actually news? Knowing the when/where a crime will occur, based on past experience/history is something a good officer already does without a computer algorithm.

    A while back, on a tour of Baltimore PD I discovered they still put color coded pins on a map, discuss it at role call, and deploy resources accordingly. It’s still very effective. A few years ago, under Gov. Carper, there was a similar project in Delaware called Real Time Crime Reporting – it amounted to colored dots on a computer monitor – same shit, different package. Despite a shitload of money pumped into it, it went over like a fart in church. Like many of the failed arguments here, some insist on declaring this little turd a victory.