‘Minority Report’s’ Crime Prediction Comes To Law Enforcement

minority report pre cog

The precog Agatha in ‘Minority Report’ can see murders before they happen.

Predicting crime before it happens is the Holy Grail of police work; the implications of such a reality would change the world as we know it—for better and for worse. Predictions, after all, are by their very nature unpredictable.

Stopping crime before it happens isn’t a new idea, of course. Steven Spielberg used it in his 2002 sci-fi epic Minority Report, which itself was loosely based on a 1956 Philip K. Dick short story of the same name. In these works of fiction, the way in which future crime is discovered pushes the limits of the possible, but the idea isn’t without merit.

Crime Prediction
The good folks at Source Fed give you a quick, humorous and insightful breakdown of crime predicting technology. It is the wave of the crime-fighting future.

On the Streets
As far-fetched as it may seem, predicting crimes before they happen is just what Los Angeles Police Department is trying to do these days as it faces the reality of budget reductions and staff limitations. Where Spielberg used mutated humans—floating in tanks—who had the ability to see future murders before they happened, the LAPD is using something far less controversial—and creepy: Algorithms. And the work isn’t focused on a specific kind of crime, but rather on crime in general.

Minority Report predictive policing

Jeff Brantingham, professor of anthropology at UCLA, helped develop the software that creates “predictive policing” zones like the one in front of him. Photo: Damian Dovarganes at AP

Called “predictive policing,” the approach involves feeding data into the software program to determine which parts of the city need an extra police presence. This concept of “crime mapping” isn’t new, according to Greg Risling’s story in the Associated Press, but the new technology is faster and more precise, and it’s working.

Los Angeles Police Captain Sean Malinowski is all but sold on the technology: “If you had told us a few years ago you could get an algorithm to perform the same as a crime analyst, we would think you were crazy,” he said. “Even the most skeptical people are now coming up to me and saying, ‘I think this is working.’”

But the idea isn’t about filling jails by arresting our way out of crime; the program is actually designed to intercept and deter crime before it happens. In areas of Los Angeles where the software is used, crime is down 13 percent, despite a general rise across the city. And Los Angeles is only the tip of the iceberg. Similar programs are underway in Memphis, Charleston, S.C., and Minneapolis.

minority report still

Some worry that “predictive policing” might lead to violations of our Fourth Amendment rights.

Will You Feel Violated?
But “predictive policing” isn’t without its question marks. Some, like assistant law professor at the University of the District of Columbia Andrew Gutherie Ferguson, believe it can easily devolve into racial profiling and even identifying neighborhoods as criminal zones. He told Risling, “I think it’s an important innovation. But like any innovation, it’s not foolproof, and looking closely at the data is important to ensure it doesn’t harm the civil liberties of the people living in those areas.”

What do you think of “predictive profiling?” Is it the future of law enforcement?

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  • Ken Maness

    It seems the citizens of high crime neighborhoods might appreciate having more police present to keep them safer.

  • Douglas Dandridge

    So I guess the crime syndicates and maybe some of the larger gangs will also get their hands on the algorithm, and determine where the police are supposed to be or where they won’t be. In studying psychology I was told that the only way to predict past behavior accurately was by analyzing past behavior. This sounds just like simple statistics.

  • Daniel A. DuBour

    Tom, Any time I see a movie advertised with you as the star, I will always want to see the movie. I’m a great fan of you, and wishing somehow would love to meet you in person. Whenever I see you, I think of the son I never had. You’re doing a great job in the entertainment business. Hoping your success will last well into your old age.

  • wawesh


  • Elizabeth

    I want to meet Tom too. He is the the coolest Tomcat around.