By Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor
Lucky or just good? That’s what police in Madison, Wisconsin are wondering after crime analyst, Caleb Klebig, successfully predicted the date and time of Scottie T. Patterson’s, 28, latest and last bank heist. Using data from other similar robberies, Klebig estimated that the then unknown Patterson would hit his next bank on a Wednesday or Thursday between 2 and 7 p.m. He narrowed the field of potential targets to five banks in greater Madison. Police staked out the banks and, sure enough, Patterson arrived right on cue at 2:40 p.m. on Wednesday. Confronted by the seemingly omniscient detectives while exiting the bank with the loot, Patterson made a break for it but was captured behind a nearby shopping center.
The prediction was made possible by advanced computer software and some sophisticated matrix analysis of factors by Klebig, who compared scores of factors from various known bank robberies before playing Karnac for the police. Patterson pled guilty to the robbery and three others saying he stole the money to buy heroin.
The story channels the sci-fi thriller from Steven Spielberg, Minority Report, about a dystopian world where crimes are predicted and punished before they occur. Chicago and LA police are already hot on this futuristic trail. Chicago uses complicated algorithms to track and then predict crimes. A list of most likely suspects is then developed from the interplay of crime scene factors and known methods of operation of career criminals. According to CPD Commander Jonathan Lewin it’s all for the public good:
“This [program] will become a national best practice. This will inform police departments around the country and around the world on how best to utilize predictive policing to solve problems. This is about saving lives.”
The program sounds Orwellian as not only offenders but their network of associates are also tracked using social networking theory and targets are then developed. Sometimes the targets are warned to prevent crime.
The program was founded with a grant from the National Institute of Justice. “These are persons who the model has determined are those most likely to be involved in a shooting or homicide, with probabilities that are hundreds of times that of an ordinary citizen,” NIJ representative Joan LaRocca said.
“Who the model has determined”? That should strike fear into most anyone who has ever turned on a computer. The practice raises several civil liberties issues not the least of which is the role of a Big Brother government concerned with whom its citizens associate. Not only that, the computer has no conscience and even reformed offenders stay in the database still suspected of crimes.
L.A. cops have taken the computer predictions a step further — taking orders from the machines to prevent burglaries. The software outperforms human analysts according to Sean Malinowski, a police captain in the Foothill division. In that area of L.A., computer models predicting theft crimes accounted for a 25 percent drop in reported burglaries, an anomaly compared to neighboring areas. “We are seeing a tipping point—they are out there preventing the crime. The suspect is showing up in the area where he likes to go. They see black-and-white [police cruisers] talking to citizens—and that’s enough to disrupt the activity,” says Malinowski.
The system in L.A. works to provide each patrol car with a printed map highlighted with red boxes,” 500 feet on each side, suggesting where property crimes—specifically, burglaries and car break-ins and thefts—are statistically more likely to happen.” Cops the use the data to set up patrols in likely areas.
The question not answered in Chicago or L.A. is whether the software will be used to predict just crime or criminals, too. Is it ethical to assume criminality before it’s even accomplished?
Now what do you think? Good Police work or crime fighting gone too far:
~Mark Esposito, Weekend Blogger