Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The future is here? And there...

Computer algorithms solving future crime? Photo by WallPapersUS

For ages criminologists settled on the idea that it is not the quantity of officers on patrol that matters most, but rather what they do. Respected police scholar James Q. Wilson (co-founder of the broken windows theory) pointed out it was the style, strategy and behavior of cops that mattered most.

Whatever! Regardless what police scholars thought, the math and computer types spent years figuring how to maximize the quantity and deployment of patrol cars. Squirreled away in dark basement rooms (at least in my imagination), they dedicated themselves to getting the quantity just right.

Disclosure: At one point I haunted those same basement rooms! I was a police planner for a few years and I evaluated PCAM - a computerized program for allocating patrol vehicles into geographic areas.


In the 1980s PCAM was the latest and greatest of its class. It  was supposed to estimate workload peaks, predict hourly call loads, maybe even better deploy cops to cut crime. All very cool stuff. It didn't work of course. PCAM just couldn't handle high priority calls. Still, it was pretty cool.

Unfortunately, no police allocation model received any level of wide acceptance throughout the 80s and 90s. That didn't change the fact that knowing where crime will happen is no small feat and so those basements remained very busy places. In fact, research continues today.

I've written all this before in blogs on predictive policing and the Precog Paradox.


Now for the latest! It looks like 007 is asking about the most recent variation on that old theme: Predpol. And compared to the others, Predpol is even cooler - in a shaken, not stirred, kind of way.

Predpol has crossed the Atlantic to the Kent Police. The Brits, it seems, are grasping at the same quantity straws that we are. Let's hope they don't obsess on where crime happens and ignore programs and funding on why they happen in the first place!

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