The NYPD Will Use Twitter to Predict Street Crime

The NYPD worked with scientists to create a system that predicts crime hot spots. But it’ll only do so much when online crime is getting easier all the time.


With the growing migration of services to online environments, some of the less-desirable aspects of society are coming with them. In an effort to curb crime, New York City police departments worked with scientists to create a system that predict crime hot spots. But that’ll only do so much when online crime is getting easier all the time.

The crime-mapping technology, which uses Twitter to predict possible future crime, was developed by Dr. Matthew Greber, a researcher at the University of Virginia. The system relies on contextual understanding of where crimes are likely to occur. “We might observe people talking about going out, getting drunk, going to bars, sporting events, and so on — we know that these sort of events correlate with crime, and that’s what the models are picking up on,” Dr. Greber told Motherboard.

Once the data is collected it’s compared to other criminal data, including previously-recorded crime hot-spots. Greber admits that the system is imperfect, but police are planning to give the method a trial run. While this raises privacy concerns, Greber says the system will only be used on tweets from accounts that are already choosing to GPS tag themselves.

But what use is tracking street crime when online crime is growing more sophisticated? Recently, a new criminal search engine called Grams was introduced to the dark Web, which enables darknet users to search for drugs, guns, and anything else they desire. “I am working on the algorithm so it is a lot like Google’s it will have a scoring system based how long the listing has been up, how many transactions, how many good reviews. That way you will see the best listing first,” the engine’s creator told Wired under a pseudonym.

Online crime and the use of online tools to fight crime are issues that are going to become more important in the future. And it’s not just the dark Web: Reddit is a potential source of gun trading, Mexico’s drug war is spilling over into Facebook and cybercrime is becoming a lucrative avenue for California’s gangs. As crime goes online, law enforcement will have to follow.

Publish date: April 30, 2014 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT