How Big Data can keep streets safer

Posted by Justin Hesser on November 11, 2013

Stopping crime before it starts sounds like the domain of a science fiction movie. In fact, the implications of this exact ability were the basis of the plot behind the film Minority Report. 

Now, custom database software has turned the notion of preventative police work into a reality.

While this initiative doesn't involve psychics or Tom Cruise, it does allow police to use a greater range of information to deduce when and where crime is most likely to occur. While a particular instance of crime might be random, it, as a whole, tends to follow certain patterns. Combining analysis of variables (like weather patterns, concerts, sporting events) with historical crime data can let police departments know the best times and places to deploy officers.

Kenneth Cukier, the author of Big Data: A Revolution that Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think, noted that custom database software was able to sharply reduce crime in areas where it was utilized, even relative to nearby areas that don't use the same tactics. While he cautions against drawing too direct a link between the two (since there could be other underlying factors), he points out that the systemic thinking behind the databases is an important step.

"What's critical, however, is that this is the direction of the future — and the idea is not to just identify where a crime may be committed, but who might be the criminal, down to the specific individual," Cukier told Business Insider.

It might not make for an exciting action thriller, but this kind of data-driven police work can help keep the streets safe.