Real-World Applications of Predictive Analytics in Policing

Police departments all over the world are utilizing the latest predictive analytics tools to gain a better understanding of crime patterns, and therefore develop prevention strategies uniquely tailored to the situation. For better or worse, these new data tools and processes are coming to maturity at a time when the need for these solutions may be at its highest in years.

According to the latest statistics released by the FBI, in 2016 the U.S. experienced a second consecutive year of increases in the national rate of violent crime. With a total of 17,250 homicides verified by the FBI, violent crime reports rose 4.1 percent. The homicide rate alone jumped 8.1 percent, another sharp uptick after that figure had already risen nearly 11 percent between 2014 and 2015.

Understanding and preventing violence has always been a top priority of police departments everywhere, but the rules of the game have changed quickly. The FBI attributed recent increases in violent crime to surges of violence concentrated in a few urban areas throughout the U.S. One of them is Chicago, Illinois, where pockets of the city remain entrenched in poverty, gang warfare and territorial disputes among drug cartels.

How analytics aids crime prevention

Although the root causes of the recent crime wave remain hard to grasp, cities like Chicago are continuing to implement and enhance policing strategies that rely on advanced data analysis. The New York Times reported in 2016 that the Chicago Police Department had been using an algorithmic system that combined data from multiple sources to assign a metric of homicide risk.

The system is known as the Strategic Subject List, and it pulls information from various databases to create a ranked list of people considered a high risk for either committing a shooting or becoming a victim of one. Using inputs as varied as arrest history, record of shootings, gang affiliations and several other variables, the Strategic Subject List had whittled down Chicago’s population of more than 2.7 million to around 1,400 people who were considered most likely to shoot or be shot.

In their 2016 report, the Times noted that the Strategic Subject List remained a relatively untested - as well as controversial - method for crime prevention. But a recent report from CPD’s 7th District found that use of the List was correlated to a 39 percent reduction in shootings over the first half of 2017 compared to the previous year. During the same period, homicides declined by 33 percent in the district. Across all CPD districts, the first half of 2017 had seen a generally reduced number of shootings between 15 and 29 percent of 2016 figures, according to the report.

It’s almost impossible to know exactly how many shootings were prevented or cases were solved due to the Strategic Subject List alone. However, it provides some measure of hope that authorities in Chicago and elsewhere will continue to apply data analytics findings to crime prevention tactics in new ways.