Could risk managers teach the police something about algorithms?

Some police forces have started using algorithms to fight crime

As far as I know, there are only a few pilot schemes in certain police forces for using algorithms at present, but other forces have begun taking an interest. It is likely that the trend will grow. Surely, we should all welcome anything that helps police forces target resources more efficiently (or do I mean effectively? See my article on the 3 E’s) .

How can algorithms help fight crime?

They can analyse data and predict where and when specific types of crime are likely to happen and who are the most likely people to commit them.  The police hope they can target their preventive measures better and can identify suspects sooner.

So, can algorithms make the police work smarter?

Possibly. But this is not as clever as you might think. All these algorithms do is analyse data and make predictions based on the assumption that the past is a good guide to the future. Ask yourself: how true is that in your business? It will also depend on someone collecting, analysing and inputting the data correctly in the first place. Police officers are only human, as are police support staff.

An old-fashioned detective - would algorithms help him?
An old-fashioned detective – would algorithms help him?
What are the risks of using algorithms?
  1. Firstly, some civil rights campaigners are afraid this could lead to increased harassment of people with criminal records and make rehabilitation harder.
  2. Secondly, where policing has been ineffective in the past, there may be under-reporting of crimes. The use of such techniques will tend to maintain this imbalance.
  3. Thirdly, like all IT systems, these could discourage the use of common sense. Shouldn’t the police already know where and when crimes are committed and who by
  4. Fourthly, algorithms may be slow at recognising new trends.

As I thought about this, I remembered my article about the use of claims databases by insurers. 

Although I wrote that some time ago, I think it is highly relevant.

You might also find my book on the risks of being misled by statistics relevant in thinking about this.

How To Avoid Being Misled By Statistics: Don't be one of the 60% who are below average by [Murray, John]
What algorithms do you use in your business?

I am all for everyone managing his or her business as efficiently and effectively as possible. If any sort of IT saves time and directs people’s efforts better, it’s a good thing. But please don’t let it be your master, when it should be your servant. Encourage people to think!

Some people fight crime without algorithms or databases.

If you are interested in other approaches to crime-fighting, you might like to read what I wrote about that on my other website as a crime-fiction writer.