"When predictive experts fail they are just replaced by a new group who say they can do better." John Ralston Saul
The prediction game is making the rounds again. If we are to believe the New York Times and the Huffington Post, there is this tiny corner of criminology where computer scientists and math types squirrel away like mad scientists decrypting secret code.
The predictive experts are the latest media darlings. No facetiousness intended. If prediction delivers on what it promises and becomes an early warning sign to improve community-based, proactive problem solving you can count me in.
IBM and Memphis Police
The latest iteration, this one from IBM, is on a crusade and they have some new friends in police departments like Memphis. Memphis points to their new predictive policing program called "Blue CRUSH" to account for a 26% crime drop in the past five years.
Sci-fi policing in real-time! Kewl. The mad scientists are positively tingling. IBM's background report explains it all.
Wait! Not so fast.
From 2002 to 2011 Tampa had a 72% felony crime plunge. Police say Tampa did it with proactive problem solving, analysis from their crime mapping unit, and a compstat performance review to hold area managers accountable. Others point to demographics. Tampa had a 40% increase in 50-64 yr olds with the financial resources to trickle some positive mojo into the local economy. That in turn mitigated, or displaced, younger crime-prone age groups.
Either way, predictive policing had nothing to do with it.
Still, I have a soft spot for the sci-fi promise. My blogs show it; Solving the city with math and Predictive policing and the PreCog paradox are the latest examples.
Disclaimer: In 1988 I co-published a predictive spatial analysis on probable locations of professional auto thieves. In the 1990s we expanded that into a tipping point theory predicting how neighborhoods tip into crime. Sci-fi policing groupie? Guilty as charged.
All great fun. All beside the point.
Police resources nowadays, razor thin and bloated on salaries, can scarcely afford expensive math experiments. Tampa did fine without it. Would they do better with it? Maybe. But if demographics are the primary cause of crime declines then we're fooling ourselves with fancy math and ignoring the root social causes that trigger it in the first place.
Anyway I'll continue reading about it. After all, who can resist such appealing titles like Poisson-based regression analysis of aggregate crime?