Santa Cruz Police Can Predict the Crimes of Tomorrow, Today

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The future of law enforcement is…the future.

Cops in Santa Cruz, CA have started using a mathematical algorithm that predicts when and where crimes will occur, the aim being to have police officers on the scene before anything actually happens. Somewhat surprisingly, five people have been arrested as a result of the program and crime rates seem to be falling. Does that mean this actually works?

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Kind of. The algorithm has a 40% success rate and can only be used in the area of property crimes, at least for now. It was designed by George Mohler, an assistant professor of mathematics at Santa Clara University, and works from the theory that a thief who successfully commits a crime will return to commit a similar crime in the same area within a certain time period (apparently four days later, according to current data).

The program began in July, and according to the SCPD, burglaries are down 27% in the period since then. Whether or not that’s because of the algorithm, the fact that more police are on the streets waiting for potential crimes to be committed as a result, or simply coincidence, is unknown. That said, somehow I’m not sure that the residents of Santa Cruz will care very much, as long as it means their houses and cars are safer.

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Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.