Law enforcement officials solve crimes every day; but it’s not every day that we hear about them predicting future crime.
It seems like an impossible task, but it’s not.
In the movie “Minority Report,” Tom Cruise plays a Washington, D.C., detective who uses a precognitive system to stop crime before it occurs. And although predicting crime may seem futuristic, the reality may be closer than you think.
“Hollywood kind of dramatizes what is possible,” said Jason Schiess, a crime analyst with the Durham Police Department.
Schiess is in charge of a team that is tasked with separating fact from fiction. He coordinates two special units; Crime Analysis and Criminal Intelligence. They are the men and women who predict crime.
“At the most basic level, they are looking at weekly crime trends to see where crimes are happening. Whether there is any pattern to those crimes to indicate that the same person or individual maybe involved,” Schiess said.
Departments in the Triangle area use several programs to diligently mine data from officer reports and other sources to create usable information that can identify trends in crime.
“Crime doesn’t occur evenly over the course of time. As weather changes, as the amount of daylight in the day changes, you can see fluctuations with crime,” said Brian Aagaard, a crime analyst for the Durham Police Department.
Sophisticated maps with heat signatures can also paint a picture for analysts at the Cary Police Department.
“I would say it saves them a tremendous amount of time because instead of doing, random patrols we’re telling them where the focus areas need to be for their patrols,” crime analyst Elise Pierce said.
Department supervisors bank on their predictions turning into results.
“There’s more of a clustering in the month of May with crimes, whereas it decreases in the month of June,” Pierce said.
She said that is most likely due to increased patrols in the targeted area, and an example of this program working.
Predictive policing plays a vital role in the way departments deploy their patrols.
“We don’t have as many cops as we want out there patrolling, so our job is to help those officers be very fluid so they can move from one type of a problem to another,” Schiess said.
Schiess said the data that is compiled by analysts can be put to good use the next day.
Lt. Marianne Bond, an assistant commander for the Durham Police Department, acts as the link between analysts who crunch the numbers and the officers out on patrol.
“There was some gang activity and some retaliatory shootings going on,” Bond said. He explained, “Utilizing that information, we were able to identify the vast majority of the players and the times of the occurrences and put targeted patrols in that area and working directly with the community to gain more information and basically working as a team.”
“That’s success,” Schiess said. “That’s utilizing those tools to very, very specifically predict not who but when and where that person would strike next and it worked.”
It’s a team effort that involves dozens of moving pieces, limitless data and cutting edge technology that can be seen as a glimpse into the future.
“We’ll never be to the point where we have something like the movie from the minority report where we can know in advance if somebody has the criminal mind to commit a crime,” said Schiess. “But we’re certainly better off than we’ve ever been before.”
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