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Preventing Crime with Math

November 17, 2010

Using the same algorithm seismologists use to predict aftershocks, Santa Clara mathematics professor George Mohler has developed a model to predict burglaries and gang violence in Los Angeles.

Big earthquakes are difficult to predict, but they are often followed by aftershocks, which follow a discernable pattern. According to an article in The Economist, crime follows a similar pattern. "There is often a pattern of 'aftercrimes' in the wake of an initial one. The similarity with earthquakes intrigued [Mohler] and he wondered if the mathematical formulas that seismologists employ to predict aftershocks were applicable to aftercrimes, too."

Mohler and a team of UCLA researchers analyzed two years-worth of Los Angeles burglary data using a computer program adapted from seismologists.

"When a burglar commits a crime in a location, what we've found in the data is they are more likely to return to that exact same house or a nearby house and commit another burglary," said Mohler in an interview with WECT News 6.

According to The Economist, "Using the seismological algorithms, the computer calculated which city blocks were likely to experience the highest number of burglaries the next day, and thus which 5% of homes within the area were at particular risk of being broken into."

WECT describes the model as "the best on the market" and reports that the Santa Cruz Police Department has started working with Mohler and hopes to see results from the model within a few months.

Source: The Economist (October 21, 2010); WECT News 6 (November 14, 2010) 

Start Date: 
Wednesday, November 17, 2010