Mapping the risk terrain for crime using machine learning


Objectives: We illustrate how a machine learning algorithm, Random Forests, can provide accurate long-term predictions of crime at micro places relative to other popular techniques. We also show how recent advances in model summaries can help to open the ‘black box’ of Random Forests, considerably improving their interpretability. Methods: We generate long-term crime forecasts for robberies in Dallas at 200 by 200 feet grid cells that allow spatially varying associations of crime generators and demographic factors across the study area. We then show how using interpretable model summaries facilitate understanding the model’s inner workings. Results: We find that Random Forests greatly outperform Risk Terrain Models and Kernel Density Estimation in terms of forecasting future crimes using different measures of predictive accuracy, but only slightly outperform using prior counts of crime. We find different factors that predict crime are highly non-linear and vary over space. Conclusions: We show how using black-box machine learning models can provide accurate micro placed based crime predictions, but still be interpreted in a manner that fosters understanding of why a place is predicted to be risky.

Sep 20, 2019 08:30
Annual meeting of the European Society of Criminology (ESC)
Gent, Belgium
Wouter Steenbeek
Wouter Steenbeek
Senior Researcher

My research interests include spatio-temporal patterns of crime, offender decision-making, neighborhoods, machine learning, and R.