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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.