Computers can tag violent crime hot spots

Feb. 19, 2013 at 4:45 PM

ANN ARBOR, Mich., Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Powerful computers analyzing data on drugs, alcohol and crimes across a city could help direct police prevention efforts, University of Michigan scientists say.

Researchers from the university's medical school and their colleagues have reported using real police data from Boston to demonstrate the ability of computer models to zero in on violent areas.

Analyzed by computer, the data yielded a detailed map of violent crime "hot spots" from police reports, drug offenses, and alcohol availability at stores, bars and restaurants, as well as the education levels, employment and other attributes of the people who live there, a university release reported Tuesday.

Such a map could help a city's leaders and police focus resources on the areas -- down to streets and intersections -- where they can do the most good, the researchers said.

"This approach allows us to find predictors of violence that aren't just related to an individual's predisposition -- but rather, allow us to study people in places and a social environment," said study lead author Robert Lipton, a professor of emergency medicine at the U-M Medical School.

While the relationship between alcohol availability and violence has been studied for years, the researchers said, the new research adds several new factors: arrests for drug possession and dealing, and citizen calls to 911 about drug use, as well as the broader geographic factors surrounding each type of establishment where alcohol is sold.

"Why are two areas of a city, which seem to be the same across typical demographic factors, different in their level of violence? We need to become more nuanced in understanding these relationships," Lipton said.

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