Blog: Seek and you shall find – crime prediction software

Date 13.02.2019

The BBC recently reported that 14 police forces in England use a piece of software that is being used to identify and ‘track’ perceived criminals, with a view to reducing the likelihood of them committing crime. Our ‘eye on crime’ Jessica Ritchie, Lecturer in Criminology, gives her thoughts about this and its possible implications.


Northamptonshire police are one of the counties who are using Qlik software to map crime. The tool is used to both map data to identify crime hotspots but also calculate individual risk assessments – to predict how likely an individual is to commit a crime or to be a victim of crime.

Sounds great – doesn’t it?

In times of austerity, targeting police resources to high risk communities and individuals is the logical thing to do. We want to get more bang for our buck and a clear return on the investment of taxes.

I for one, as a Criminologist, who works toward better understanding and research of criminal activity, with a view to reducing it, had my interest piqued (I won’t kid myself that it will ever be a thing of the past!) But such practices must be used with a note of caution.

For instance, they may contribute to the continued over-representation of black and Asian ethnic minorities (BAME) in our criminal justice system – through targeted policing practices. Especially when pre-empting the likelihood of an individual to commit an offence.

So, what do we know? Black men are at least 3 times more likely to be arrested than white men, even though black people only make up 3% of the population of England and Wales. Mixed ethnic men are 2 times more likely to be arrested than white me. Both black and mixed ethnic women are 2 times more likely to arrested than white women.

One needs to ask the obvious question, why are BAME people being arrested more frequently than their white counterparts?

Targeted policing can reinforce the historical inequalities which continue to exist within the BAME community and other disadvantaged communities. If we are looking for crime, we will find it and not consider other communities who also have a propensity for criminal activity.

The criminal justice system needs to change – otherwise this cycle of intergenerational disadvantage and over-representation of black and Asian ethnic minorities will continue.

Find out more about Criminology (single honours) at University of Northampton.