Tag Archives: Minority Report

Predictive policing in Vancouver—the first jurisdiction in Canada to employ a machine learning system for property theft reduction

Predictive policing has come to Canada, specifically, Vancouver. A July 22, 2017 article by Matt Meuse for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) news online describes the new policing tool,

The Vancouver Police Department is implementing a city-wide “predictive policing” system that uses machine learning to prevent break-ins by predicting where they will occur before they happen — the first of its kind in Canada.

Police chief Adam Palmer said that, after a six-month pilot project in 2016, the system is now accessible to all officers via their cruisers’ onboard computers, covering the entire city.

“Instead of officers just patrolling randomly throughout the neighbourhood, this will give them targeted areas it makes more sense to patrol in because there’s a higher likelihood of crime to occur,” Palmer said.

 

Things got off to a slow start as the system familiarized itself [during a 2016 pilot project] with the data, and floundered in the fall due to unexpected data corruption.

But Special Const. Ryan Prox said the system reduced property crime by as much as 27 per cent in areas where it was tested, compared to the previous four years.

The accuracy of the system was also tested by having it generate predictions for a given day, and then watching to see what happened that day without acting on the predictions.

Palmer said the system was getting accuracy rates between 70 and 80 per cent.

When a location is identified by the system, Palmer said officers can be deployed to patrol that location. …

“Quite often … that visible presence will deter people from committing crimes [altogether],” Palmer said.

Though similar systems are used in the United States, Palmer said the system is the first of its kind in Canada, and was developed specifically for the VPD.

While the current focus is on residential break-ins, Palmer said the system could also be tweaked for use with car theft — though likely not with violent crime, which is far less predictable.

Palmer dismissed the inevitable comparison to the 2002 Tom Cruise film Minority Report, in which people are arrested to prevent them from committing crimes in the future.

“We’re not targeting people, we’re targeting locations,” Palmer said. “There’s nothing dark here.”

If you want to get a sense of just how dismissive Chief Palmer was, there’s a July 21, 2017 press conference (run time: approx. 21 mins.) embedded with a media release of the same date. The media release offered these details,

The new model is being implemented after the VPD ran a six-month pilot study in 2016 that contributed to a substantial decrease in residential break-and-enters.

The pilot ran from April 1 to September 30, 2016. The number of residential break-and enters during the test period was compared to the monthly average over the same period for the previous four years (2012 to 2015). The highest drop in property crime – 27 per cent – was measured in June.

The new model provides data in two-hour intervals for locations where residential and commercial break-and-enters are anticipated. The information is for 100-metre and 500-metre zones. Police resources can be dispatched to that area on foot or in patrol cars, to provide a visible presence to deter thieves.

The VPD’s new predictive policing model is built on GEODASH – an advanced machine-learning technology that was implemented by the VPD in 2015. A public version of GEODASH was introduced in December 2015 and is publicly available on vpd.ca. It retroactively plots the location of crimes on a map to provide a general idea of crime trends to the public.

I wish Chief Palmer had been a bit more open to discussion about the implications of ‘predictive policing’. In the US where these systems have been employed in various jurisdictions, there’s some concern arising after an almost euphoric initial response as a Nov. 21, 2016 article by Logan Koepke for the slate.com notes (Note: Links have been removed),

When predictive policing systems began rolling out nationwide about five years ago, coverage was often uncritical and overly reliant on references to Minority Report’s precog system. The coverage made predictive policing—the computer systems that attempt to use data to forecast where crime will happen or who will be involved—seem almost magical.

Typically, though, articles glossed over Minority Report’s moral about how such systems can go awry. Even Slate wasn’t immune, running a piece in 2011 called “Time Cops” that said, when it came to these systems, “Civil libertarians can rest easy.”

This soothsaying language extended beyond just media outlets. According to former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, predictive policing is the “wave of the future.” Microsoft agrees. One vendor even markets its system as “better than a crystal ball.” More recent coverage has rightfully been more balanced, skeptical, and critical. But many still seem to miss an important point: When it comes to predictive policing, what matters most isn’t the future—it’s the past.

Some predictive policing systems incorporate information like the weather, a location’s proximity to a liquor store, or even commercial data brokerage information. But at their core, they rely either mostly or entirely on historical crime data held by the police. Typically, these are records of reported crimes—911 calls or “calls for service”—and other crimes the police detect. Software automatically looks for historical patterns in the data, and uses those patterns to make its forecasts—a process known as machine learning.

Intuitively, it makes sense that predictive policing systems would base their forecasts on historical crime data. But historical crime data has limits. Criminologists have long emphasized that crime reports—and other statistics gathered by the police—do not necessarily offer an accurate picture of crime in a community. The Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey estimates that from 2006 to 2010, 52 percent of violent crime went unreported to police, as did 60 percent of household property crime. Essentially: Historical crime data is a direct record of how law enforcement responds to particular crimes, rather than the true rate of crime. Rather than predicting actual criminal activity, then, the current systems are probably better at predicting future police enforcement.

Koepke goes on to cover other potential issues with ‘predicitive policing’ in this thoughtful piece. He also co-authored an August 2016 report, Stuck in a Pattern; Early evidence on “predictive” policing and civil rights.

There seems to be increasing attention on machine learning and bias as noted in my May 24, 2017 posting where I provide links to other FrogHeart postings on the topic and there’s this Feb. 28, 2017 posting about a new regional big data sharing project, the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative where I mention Cathy O’Neil (author of the book, Weapons of Math Destruction) and her critique in a subsection titled: Algorithms and big data.

I would like to see some oversight and some discussion in Canada about this brave new world of big data.

One final comment, it is possible to get access to the Vancouver Police Department’s data through the City of Vancouver’s Open Data Catalogue (home page).

Big data, data visualization, and spatial relationships with computers

I’m going to tie together today’s previous postings (Sporty data science Digitizing and visualizing the humanities, and Picture worth more than a thousand numbers? Yes and no with a future-oriented Feb. 2010 TED talk by John Underkoffler (embedded below). I have mentioned this talk previously in my June 14, 2012 posting titled, Interacting with stories and/or with data. From his TED speaker’s webpage,

Remember the data interface from Minority Report? Well, it’s real, John Underkoffler invented it — as a point-and-touch interface called g-speak — and it’s about to change the way we interact with data.

When Tom Cruise put on his data glove and started whooshing through video clips of future crimes, how many of us felt the stirrings of geek lust? This iconic scene in Minority Report marked a change in popular thinking about interfaces — showing how sexy it could be to use natural gestures, without keyboard, mouse or command line.

John Underkoffler led the team that came up with this interface, called the g-speak Spatial Operating Environment. His company, Oblong Industries, was founded to move g-speak into the real world. Oblong is building apps for aerospace, bioinformatics, video editing and more. But the big vision is ubiquity: g-speak on every laptop, every desktop, every microwave oven, TV, dashboard. “It has to be like this,” he says. “We all of us every day feel that. We build starting there. We want to change it all.”

Before founding Oblong, Underkoffler spent 15 years at MIT’s Media Laboratory, working in holography, animation and visualization techniques, and building the I/O Bulb and Luminous Room Systems.

He’s talking about human-computer interfaces but I found the part where he manipulates massive amounts of data (from approx. 8 mins. – 9.5 mins.) particularly instructive. This video is longer (approx. 15.5 mins. as opposed to 5 mins. or less) than the videos I usually embed.

I think the real game changer for science  (how it’s conducted, how it’s taught, and how it’s communicated) and other disciplines is data visualization.

ETA Aug. 3, 2012 1:20 pm PDT: For those who might want to see this video in its ‘native’ habitat, go here http://www.ted.com/talks/john_underkoffler_drive_3d_data_with_a_gesture.html.

Interpol and innovation? Let’s not underestimate the criminals

My hat’s off to Neal Ungerleider at the Fast Company website. His Feb. 9, 2012 article (Inside INTERPOL’s New Cybercrime Innovation Center) has proven to be incredibly successful. It seems to be everywhere which makes tracking down additional information about INTERPOL’s new complex a bit of a challenge. Here’s what Ungerleider wrote about the centre,

INTERPOL, the international policing agency, is opening a massive innovation center in Singapore in 2014. At the center, law enforcement will learn all about the latest cybercrimes… and have access to cutting-edge forensics laboratories and research stations.

I particularly enjoyed this line from Ungerleider’s article,

INTERPOL, the international policing organization, is building a law enforcement tech geek heaven in Singapore.

Here’s a video of what this new complex may look like,

Ungerleider goes on to note this about the activities and the bureaucracy supporting the complex,

Beyond cybercrime, police officers and researchers at IGCI will also be developing experimental strategies to combat environmental crime, counterfeiting, corruption in football/soccer, and Asian criminal syndicates. The complex will include laboratories, conference space, and a museum-like space for tours geared toward the public. INTERPOL being INTERPOL, the whole organizational process behind the center is highly bureaucratic and intricate [PDF].

The Jan. 16, 2012 media release from INTERPOL announces the director for this new complex,

INTERPOL has announced that Noboru Nakatani of Japan, currently the Special Advisor to the Commissioner General of Japan’s National Police Agency (NPA), and Director of the NPA’s Transnational Organized Crime Office, has been appointed as the Executive Director of the INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation (IGCI) in Singapore.

The state-of-the-art facility, due to become operational in early 2014, will equip the world’s police with the tools and knowledge to better tackle the crime threats of the 21st century. As a research and development facility for the identification of crimes and criminals, it will provide innovative training and operational support for law enforcement across the globe.

During the building’s ongoing construction, Mr Nakatani will oversee and coordinate the creation and development of the programmes and services that will be delivered from the IGCI by INTERPOL to its 190 member countries.

At Japan’s National Police Agency, Mr Nakatani held the post of Senior Assistant Director for cybercrime, as well as Executive Officer to the Minister of State, the Chairperson of the National Public Safety Commission.

“I am very pleased that the Government of Japan has allowed Mr Nakatani to return to INTERPOL in order to take up this challenging and historic post; it reaffirms Japan’s strong commitment to INTERPOL and to international police cooperation,” said INTERPOL President Khoo Boon Hui.

INTERPOL notes this about the need for this complex, from the INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation page,

Crime threats are changing

Police worldwide are facing an increasing challenging operational landscape, as criminals take advantage of new technology, the ease of international travel and the anonymous world of virtual business.

Criminal phenomena are becoming more aggressive and elusive, notably in the areas of cybercrime and child sexual exploitation.

The future of policing

It is crucial for police to stay one step ahead of criminals. In today’s world this can only be achieved if law enforcement officials have real-time access to information beyond their own borders.

The digital age has opened up immense new opportunities to police forces, providing secure communications channels and instant access to criminal data. Innovation must become our best ally.

Championing innovation

The Global Complex will go beyond the traditional reactive law enforcement model. This new centre will provide proactive research into new areas and latest training techniques. [emphasis mine] The aim is to give police around the world both the tools and capabilities to confront the increasingly ingenious and sophisticated challenges posed by criminals.

The four main components of the Global Complex are as follows:

Innovation, research and digital security

  • Boosting cybersecurity and countering cybercrime;
  • A forensic laboratory to support digital crime investigations;
  • Research to test protocols, tools and services and to analyse trends of cyber-attacks;
  • Development of practical solutions in collaboration with police, research laboratories, academia and the public and private sectors;
  • Addressing issues such as Internet security governance.

For some reason that business about extending past the traditional reactive approach  to become proactive reminded me of the movie, Minority Report (internet movie database),

In the future, criminals are caught before the crimes they commit, … [sic]

I can’t imagine getting more proactive than that.