- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2007


It sounds like the science fiction film “Minority Report”: an elite team forecasting murders and intervening before they occur. But the approach is very real in Philadelphia, where officials are using statistics and software to identify which convicts on probation are most likely to kill. The city’s new Strategic Anti-Violence Unit began using the technique last week to give special attention to new probationers considered high-risk.

“It is possible to usefully forecast individuals who are likely to try to kill somebody,” said Richard Berk, a professor of criminology and statistics at the University of Pennsylvania. “If you can find these individuals, there’s something that can be done within the probation department which will reduce the likelihood that they will pull the trigger.”

Using software tools and research into thousands of past crimes, Mr. Berk developed a computer model for the Philadelphia probation department that identifies high-risk probationers, a group where 40 in 100 are likely to attempt murder. “Those individuals should receive the lion’s share of probation resources rather than individuals who are low-risk and don’t create any serious dangers for the community,” Mr. Berk said.

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