Predictive policing has come a long way in recent years. Police have always known when and where to step up patrols in certain city areas, for example, by applying simple predictive equations such as: payday + alcohol = trouble. You didn’t need to be a data scientist to anticipate a skirmish or three in bars on Friday night. But developments in data analytics and artificial intelligence are refining how law enforcement uses data and applies predictive analytics in a range of areas, focusing not just on overall trends but on individuals — and in the process renewing ethical concerns.
One area where predictive tools have caught on is with sex offenders. The Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office in Evansville, Indiana, for instance, this month joined a growing list of law enforcement agencies that have signed up with OffenderWatch, a sex offender registry network, for its Focus product, which the company says can help police better manage oversight of sex offenders.
OffenderWatch collects sex-offense data from more than 3,500 agencies, including information on about 60 percent of all sex offenders and other data from federal, state and local sources. Focus draws on that information and applies predictive analytics to over 100 risk factors in an individual sex offender’s record, the company says. It then comes up with a score that is added to an offender’s record, so police searching the system can identify those with highest risk factors. The sheriff’s office has been able to better identify and monitor high-risk offenders since it began using the system last fall, according to OffenderWatch’s release.