Crime fighters have long used brains and brawn, but now a new kind of technology known as “predictive policing” promises to make them more efficient.
A growing number of law enforcement agencies, in the US and elsewhere, have been adopting software tools with predictive analytics, based on algorithms that aim to predict crimes before they happen.
The concept sounds like something out of science fiction and the thriller “Minority Report” based on a Philip K. Dick story.
Without some of the sci-fi gimmickry, police departments from Santa Cruz, California, to Memphis, Tennessee, and law enforcement agencies from Poland to Britain have adopted these new techniques.
The premise is simple: criminals follow patterns, and with software — the same kind that retailers like Wal-Mart and Amazon use to determine consumer purchasing trends — police can determine where the next crime will occur and sometimes prevent it.
The new system has seen dramatic decreases in crime where this has been implemented, which is a good thing. The key to those decreases has been an increase in patrols and presence. The only thing that scares me is that we decide to go overboard on it and start arresting people for "precrime".
Face it, software and algorithms can fail and will in this case. If we keep it at increased patrol and investigation, fine. If we move towards a Tom Cruise style arrest then we are in serious trouble.