Hot-Spotting Big City Crime: Spending Less and Getting MoreNovember 29, 2011
If you have been watching this show, you probably know that Dylan’s book, Greedy Bastards, will be out in January. Leading up to the launch, we want to start introducing some of the themes that can get us the “debate we deserve.” The first concept we’re kicking off with is hot-spotting: a technique that targets the most expensive problems or in-need people by allocating resources to specific problem areas revealed by data about them.
“Instead of asking how much, it’s the how that really matters,” says Dylan. “You don’t hear much about it, because the Greedy Bastards don’t always like it. It’s more profitable to spend money and see what happens. But that’s the sort of thing we obviously can’t afford anymore.”
One man who successfully used hot-spotting in the face of budget pressure, Bill Bratton, former LAPD police chief and NYPD Commissioner. Here’s his conversation with Dylan:
DYLAN: People know the story of the big city crime drops in LA and New York, but explain to us the problem-solving technique that is hot-spotting and why it is that you can spend less money and get more response. Not just in crime, but starting there.
BILL: The idea is that to identify as quickly as possible where crime is occurring, so you can get in there, put cops on the dots, and prevent it from expanding. It’s very much what medicine does. So in policing — hot-spot policing is puts cops on the dots. Timely, accurate attention each day, every day, gathering evidence where crime is occurring, move your limited number of police, and in today’s society, we have fewer police than we’ve had over the last dozen years or so. There are scarce resources, you have to apply them where you can get the most bang for the buck.
DYLAN: It’s interesting, it seems to be sort of broader than just crime. If you look at the numbers on health care, 1% of all the patients in Camden, New Jersey, account for 30% of all the health care costs. I imagine there’s a similar number like that for the number of citizens that account for a crime.
BILL: In policing, we call it the 10% spluolution. 10% of the locations in a city where about 50% of the crime occurs. so the idea is, you take your scarce resources and put them where you know the problem people are, the problem locations are, and by putting cops there, you’re able to prevent a lot of that crime from occurring in the first place.
DYLAN: And i want to look at this other statistic, which just blows my mind. this is according to David Banks, who runs the The Eagle Academy, which is, again, basically an aggressive hot-spot education team. They’re going into the South Bronx, going to these places, trying to work with young children, such that they don’t end up in this next statistic. 70% of new york’s inmates come from seven neighborhoods in New York City. Which means we don’t need to go on a massive search for where this is happening, we can actually use digital discreet data, and point to addresses where these things happened. You couldn’t do this sort of analysis without computers.
BILL: You could have, except it would have been extraordinarily labor intensive and took a lot of time. the beauty of computers now, it’s allowed us to move into the new era of policing, called predictor policing, which is hot-spot policing on steroids.
DYLAN: And then the results, whether you see over-allocation in health or over-allocation in education, are very familiar to what you saw, again, with crime. A 50% drop in murders, 39% drop in serious crimes. Less resources, but allocated using the hot-spot mentality. Why do the numbers turn out like that?
BILL: As you’re using them appropriately, more cops used appropriately means even more crime reduction. We’re effectively still feeling the investment made in the ’90s in technology, which led to the acquisition of computers, more cops to put on those hot spots. We have to see over time as budgets are reduced and even money to buy, computers that do hot-spot policing how we feel. Right now we’re feeling the impact of the investment that was made back in the ’90s.
DYLAN: When you watch other systems that spend equally without discreet data, do you think to yourselves, I’ve got to call these guys and tell them about hot-spotting?
BILL: It’s all about information. In the ’90s in new york, we began the revolution of using crime information for the first time to tell you where to put the cops, when to put them there, and what to do with them.
DYLAN: But doesn’t it make sense that that same type of data could then be harvested and similar techniques could be used to solve some of our educational problems and some of our health problems?
BILL: Certainly. Chicago, the superintendent of the school system discovered 500 at-risk youth who they sought to then deal with to basically reduce the potential for those 500 kids to be murder victims in the coming school year. Predictive schooling, if you will. That’s hot-spot policing in the school system. It saves a lot of money by making investment in those people who you know are going to be in trouble.
DYLAN: And if you were to look at the resistance to this, it comes from folks who are — when people say to you, listen, keep your computers to yourself, what tends to be their motivation?
BILL: Well, the resistance is oftentimes, the idea of job protection at this particular time, the jobs are disappearing, so that’s less than the motivation. But it is the idea that people are just comfortable doing it the way they’re used to doing it. In policing, I’ve always been known as a change agent, a transformational change agent. And i’m usually not too popular when i come to town, because i know change is going to occur. It’s going to come whether you’re leading it or following it. I prefer to lead it.
DYLAN: If you were to look at our budget debate, for instance, in this country. Let’s say we’re going to add a trillion, cut a trillion. add $4 trillion, cut $10 trillion. Pick your favorite number, right? I have been on this network every day for three years now since I left CNBC, talking to folks about, you know, policy this and that. I have yet to have a single conversation with an american legislator, policy advocate, congressperson, I don’t care who it is, who doesn’t come on and argue how much, I need more money, we need less money. I have not had a single person come over and say, the way that we allocate our resources at any threshold is unintelligent. that it is not informed. and as a result, we just distribute the money, either to our political friends or to how we feel that day, as opposed to in response to the 1% of the patients in camden that are 30% of the health care. Or that are the students, or that is the crime. Do you think that we can get there? Do you have the confidence that we can take the techniques that you proved out so well in crime, and actually have a health care system, have an educational system where the culture of problem solving, the culture in our conditioning, forget what the answers are, but the culture of how we even talk about things integrate these types of ideas.
BILL: There are solutions there. you’ve outlined a number of them in your book. The idea is to find people who are willing to take the political risk that’s necessary to do it. Unfortunately, in our Congress at the moment, there are very few people who are willing to that I can that risk in any one of the initiatives you’ve been talking about.
DYLAN: My last question to you, the distinction between equality and the quest for everyone getting the same thing. The same number of cops on every block, the same amount of money never school. The same whatever it might be. So equality and the difference between that and equity. Where those that are most in need, those that are most desperate for whatever the resource is, is delivered. And understanding that equity is not the same thing as equality.
BILL: That’s effectively what I did in policing for 40 years. You put the cops where the problems are. The cops on the dots. Hot-spot policing.
DYLAN: You would think the way you speak that this would be done already in every industry in america.
BILL: Don’t you wish?
DYLAN: I do wish! I do wish. Well, listen, I, and we all, have learned through your case study with crime, and my hope is that that case study will not only be continued to be used in crime fighting in this country, but will be expanded into our education and health care systems as well.