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The term “pre-crime” was coined in the film “Minority Report”, in which a criminal event that has not yet occurred is predicted, and a special police unit called “pre-crime” places the would-be offender in preventive detention in order to prevent him from carrying out the crime. The film deals with the legal and moral difficulty arising from a pre-crime methodology — arresting people who have not violated the law; this is a basic paradox because if the crime is prevented, then the prediction will turn out to be wrong. While predictions in the film are made in a fictional manner 1 by three “prophets”, there are technologies today that are used to predict crime.
Increased Usage The leading company in crime prediction technologies is PredPol (Predictive Policing). PredPol has a limited definition of crime prediction; namely, the practice of identifying dates and locations where specific crimes may occur and sending a patrol to these areas to prevent the occurrence of these crimes. The company proclaims that its goal is to help law enforcement agencies maintain safer communities by reducing the number of victims. The tools used by the system identify when and where crimes may occur, and allow the police to allocate resources effectively to prevent them from occurring. The information used by PredPol is very important and the company makes predictions based solely on data reported to the police. The information is anonymous, and the company does not collect Personally Identifiable Information (PII). The company proclaims that protecting the privacy and civil rights of members of the community is as important to it as protecting the community from crime.3 Another company, HunchLab, is a web-based proactive patrol management system. The company uses advanced statistical models that predict when and where crimes are likely to occur and the best ways for police to respond. According to the company website, policing tactics should not only be effective, they should reflect the community’s priorities. Therefore, the company provides features that align patrol activities with the community’s priorities, allocate resources to prevent overpolicing, and determine which tactics work and which ones do not.
Such technologies are increasingly being used worldwide. One example is the Chicago, IL, Police, which teamed up with a professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology to develop an algorithm called the “Strategic Subject List” (SSL) to assess and examine individuals at a high risk of being involved in a violent event. The algorithm calculates a risk assessment and the likelihood that a person will be involved in a violent crime incident — either as a criminal or as a victim — and ranks people on a scale ranging from 0 (low risk) to 500 (high risk). For prediction purposes, the 5 system uses many databases, including surveillance cameras and social media.
This article is part of the RED-Alert project, funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation Programme under grant agreement No 740688.