Homeland Security and Public Safety

Behavioral Data and the Future of Predictive Policing
By: on November 05, 2012
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Computer assisted intelligence will help police officers zone in on high-risk areas much more quickly. Photo by Lance Murphey/Memphis Daily News.

“I think that it is just a matter of making the offenders’ behavior and personality a part of the process,” Clausius said. “If you go overseas and see the intelligence being done, they look at a lot of offender behavior and offender profiles.”

Douglass agreed. He expects nontraditional information for predictive policing will come from more study of social behaviors. It’ll just take some time to make it a reality in the U.S. For example, Douglass said it took years for law enforcement to realize that 80 percent of homicides are done by people who know the victim. That revelation was 25 years ago.

Only recently, police officers have started to realize that many homicides in big cities are connected to others in the same vicinity going back a decade. Douglass said that in Kansas City, investigators were able to trace back a string of 40 or 50 murders over a 15-year period to one specific incident. 

“Many of these homicides are located in a geographical area amongst a group of people who are simply retaliating back and forth in a culture where they don’t tell the police what is going on,” Douglass said. “That becomes the remedy, and consequently all these homicides are related.”

“I think that the social scientist will be able to help us determine social patterns that we will be able to take advantage of,” he added.

Virtual Life

Social networks and virtual environments are another source of unexploited data that experts believe will impact predictive policing in the future. Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are based on the concept of sharing details — information that law enforcement is hoping it can capitalize on.

Leonard Scott, former police chief of Corpus Christi, Texas, thinks the data gleaned from observing social media will fundamentally alter the way commanders assign patrols to certain areas. 

Instead of officers being dispatched to a particular location in response to an event, the information taken from virtual existences will be used to assign a “flex unit” that will move into an area within a half mile of a particular location and watch for various disturbances. Those units are an extension of predictive policing based on social media data streams.

Clausius agreed, but said mining social media will be more difficult as time goes on. Many people are locking down their social media accounts so that data isn’t as readily accessible, but she says law enforcement still must figure out how to tap deeper into the information that social networks can provide.

One might assume that criminals would be smart enough to vary where they spend their time, particularly if cops are homing in on new sources of information that may pinpoint the likelihood of a crime occurring in an area. But Colleen McCue, senior director of social science and quantitative methods for GeoEye, a geospatial services firm, said it’s unlikely.

McCue, author of Data Mining and Predictive Analysis: Intelligence Gathering and Crime Analysis, explained that humans are aware of a vast majority of their behaviors, but location preferences tend to be subtle and unconscious in many cases. 

For example, at a grocery store, next to the bananas, you might see a display of Nilla Wafer cookies, which go well with the fruit. McCue described that type of product placement as a method of optimizing decision-making. Criminals have the same type of decision process that is largely unconscious.

“Even if they are aware of what they are doing, it is very difficult to bypass some of those unconscious decision processes,” McCue said. “It is very difficult to engage in truly random behavior, and it is that fact that makes the whole crime analyst thing work.”

Virtual gaming is another arena Clausius believes will be a gold mine for data in the next decade or two. From gambling sites to independent virtual identities to trade money for crime, Clausius thinks cyberspace is ripe for the picking when it comes to data to improve predictive policing efforts.

“I don’t think law enforcement and public safety have even tapped into that as far as a data source or intelligence,” she said. “There are all kinds of games 


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Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Emergency Management magazine.

E-mail: bheaton@emergencymgmt.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/govtechbrian

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