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Predictive Analytics Where it Matters: Preventing Crime

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Today there is a lot of buzz about the use of predictive analytics in business.  Spurred in part by the best selling book, Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie or Die, by Eric Siegel, it seems that everyone is talking about ways to predict every major and minor event in our lives.

As with every application of technology, there are implementations that can have a higher, or lower impact on society.  At PublicEngines, we have long believed in the application of analytics to improving quality of life in general, and specifically to fighting crime.  That’s why we were pleased to announce our newest product last week: CommandCentral Predictive.

CommandCentral Predictive is a significant step forward in the use of predictive analytics to accomplishing law enforcement’s goal of preventing crime and improving our communities by making them safer.  In particular, from the time we conceived this product through to its final development, there were two things that were most important to us: accuracy and ease-of-use.

Pre-eminent in our thought process was to create a product that accurately predicts potential crime.  The entire basis of this product is to more accurately digest data and provide an accurate, unbiased view of the highest probability of crime on a daily basis.  So, the science behind it had to be sound.   That’s why we designed our prediction engine using multiple algorithms to optimize its effectiveness and verified it with extensive field-testing.

Of almost equal importance to us was to design the product with the highest ease of use.  It doesn’t matter how good the product is, if the interface isn’t easy to navigate,  it won’t be used.  So, we designed the product from the start with the idea that users need to be able to jump in the product right from the beginning with little to no training.  Then, we took that design to officers, analysts, and command staff, and asked for their input on how to make it better and we redesigned it based on their feedback (more on this in another post).  The result is something that is functional and highly usable; delivering a daily report in a way that any officer can use to improve the way they police.

With an announcement of a product like this there is no doubt that naysayers will voice their opinions.  In particular, we’ve heard those who will say that advanced crime analytics software can’t replace crime analysts.  And they are right.  That’s not our intent.  However, we know how much time analysts have and where their demands are.  Analysts spend a significant amount of time working with officers and patrol supervisors on their areas of patrol responsibility.  They’ve told us they’re overwhelmed with more work than they can handle.  CommandCentral Predictive is designed to help them take a significant demand and essentially automate the prediction of high-probability events and give them more time for analysis.  For those agencies without an analyst (a majority), this is a significant boost by giving them the tactical, directed analysis their officers need but can’t currently afford.

Others may cite instances where software has not worked well at making predictions, such as the military’s use of prediction software to forecast political unrest.  But what we have seen is that, like what you purchase, where you shop, or what you look at online, crime occurs, for the most part, in a repeatable, predictable pattern.  And our field-testing has shown that our algorithms are far more accurate in seeing both long- and short-term trends, modeling them, and learning and improving along the way.  In fact, this very field-testing has show us to be, on average, 2.7 times more accurate than traditional hotspot models at determining where the next crimes will occur.

Tim O’Reilly, the well-known media technologist, once said, “We’re entering a new world in which data may be more important than software.”  I think this is especially true in law enforcement, where enforcement officers have the data to help themselves, but have traditionally struggled through poor software tools to help them analyze it.  So, while we are proud and excited about CommandCentral Predictive, what we are most excited about is this product’s potential to unlock the patterns and intelligence in agency’s data and helping them to make better and more effective policing decisions.

Timely Crime Data that is Easy to Interpret Leads to Better Law Enforcement Decisions

Organizations of all types, especially law enforcement agencies, are being buried in Big Data. As defined by Wikipedia, the term Big Data  represents data so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process.

The same problem can also referred to as Information Overload, and aside from the technical challenges to Big Data, too much information can be difficult to access, store, share, and be useful. In today’s more electronic world, we aren’t in jeopardy of being buried in paper – rather the biggest threat of all is that the data goes unused.

Useful information leads to better knowledge, and thus better decision-making.  A typical approach to managing data and information can be:

  1. Collect raw data
  2. Sort into useful information
  3. Analyze information
  4. Share findings
  5. Information is turned into useful knowledge

The Information Sharing Environment (ISE) provides vital information about terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and homeland security to analysts, operators, and investigators in the U.S. government. From ISE’s Website:

A fundamental component of effective enterprise-wide information sharing, for example, is the use of information systems that regularly capture relevant data and make it broadly available to authorized users in a timely and secure manner.

While focused on activities mostly related to terrorism, ISE acknowledges its ideas of data sharing are extremely effective in local law enforcement as well.

In law enforcement, timely and accurate information is vital; as untimely or inaccurate information simply causes problems. PublicEngines audits show that up to 25% of all law enforcement data housed in RMS or CAD systems in the average agency is not accurate – often mislabeled or improperly mapped. This can lead to a poor allocation of resources and confusion.

However, some agencies struggle with sharing relevant and timely information at all. Time spent reporting, analyzing, and distributing information can be tedious, and time-consuming. And with up to 59% of agencies stating there is a lack of staff for crime analysis, it’s no surprise the critical information is often not shared.

The lessons are clear – sharing data that is relevant, timely, and easy to interpret, is an effective way to become more efficient in law enforcement.

PublicEngines recently announced it has added Email Reports to its widely popular CommandCentral Analytics solution. You can read the announcement here: PublicEngines Launches Email Reports for CommandCentral

Creating more tools that allow for easier sharing of critical information is a step in the right direction of tackling this challenge of too much information for law enforcement. This is especially true when the information shared is easy-to-read and interpret. The more people that have access to timely and valuable information, the better law enforcement decisions will be made.

So, how is timely and relevant information shared at your agency? Do you have an internal process, meeting, or technology solution that works particularly well for you? Let us know in the comments section.