HomeNewsAnalysisChile Engineers Calculate Crime Hotspots
ANALYSIS

Chile Engineers Calculate Crime Hotspots

CHILE / 3 JUL 2013 BY ELYSSA PACHICO EN

An analysis center backed by the University of Chile is working with security forces in developing mathematical models that promote more efficient ways to fight crime, an approach towards crime control that has yet to be widely adopted across Latin America but could bring about significant results. 

The Center for the Analysis and Modeling of Security (CEAMOS), active since 2007, specializes in developing models aimed at helping Chile's national police force and its prison guard unit, known as the Gendarmerie, develop more effective crime fighting strategies. 

"There aren't many mathematicians or engineers who are working on crime issues," CEAMOS engineer Fernando Ordoñez told InSight Crime. "It tends to be something dealt with in public policy, anthropology, sociology, but you don't see a lot of engineers [in Chile] working on the problem. In that sense, we're pretty unique." 

The center, made up of a team of 10 researchers -- the majority of them engineers and mathematicians -- developed one such model that showed the national police force, the Carabiniers (Carabineros), that there is a better way to deploy crime-fighting resources across the Chilean capital, Santiago. Using Carabinier statistics on the number and type of crime in certain neighborhoods -- as well as data on the geography of city neighborhoods and census data -- CEAMOS researchers were able to map crime "hotspots" in Santiago. 

The Carabiniers' current law enforcement strategy, known as the Cuadrantes Plan, involves dividing up major cities like Santiago into smaller sections monitored by police patrols. The CEAMOS model showed that there are better ways "cuadrantes," or police beats, could be designed, in order to more efficiently target the crime-prone zones.

As Ordoñez explained to InSight Crime, the cuadrantes patrolled by beat officers are often designed around neighborhood districts or roads. But as Ordoñez points out, "Crime doesn't respect these frontiers. The fact that the cuadrantes need to follow these political and neighborhood borders, it doesn't make sense." Via its mathematical model, CEAMOS aims to prove that police resources could be much better used if the cuadrantes are not developed in such a way.

According to CEAMOS director Raul Manasevich, currently there are no other comparable research centers in Latin America. Outside the region, the academic institutions best known for blending criminology with mathematical modeling include the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University College of London. One crime-predicting model developed by UCLA was able to demonstrate which of Los Angeles' crime hotspots would most likely disappear if hit hard by police, and which ones would simply shift to other parts of the city. Research teams at two Spanish universities in Madrid have also done similar work. 

However, even in Latin American countries badly affected by dramatic increases in crime and violence, the use of mathematical modeling to aid law enforcement remains rare. In that sense, CEAMOS is something like a pioneer in the region, with projects that could yet be applied in other nations struggling to manage insecurity. 

The research center has also worked with the national prison guard, the Chilean Gendarmerie, on developing models predicting which inmates are most likely to become repeat offenders. CEAMOS also helped design a more efficient system for assigning and tracking prison guard shifts, as guards would frequently skip work or else be forced to work multiple shifts over short periods of time. 

 Another project involved analyzing police emergency calls, 80 percent of which were found to be pranks. Researchers found that over half of those who called the 133 emergency number hung up the phone before being connected with a call-taker, because they had to wait for so long. Such findings formed the basis of a CEAMOS researcher's recommendations that authorities should do a better job at fielding non-emergency calls to the general information number, 139, in order to free up the phone lines. 

InSight Crime Analysis

While Chile suffers some of the same security ills seen elsewhere in Latin America -- human trafficking, street gangs, and drug trafficking -- it remains one of the safest countries in the region. Nevertheless, the crime modeling practiced by CEAMOS could easily be applied to criminal phenomena elsewhere. Police in Colombia's major cities, including Bogota, follow their own Cuadrantes Plan, while Mexico has applied a similar model to track crime and accidents along its highways. Authorities in Colombia's second-largest city report that 70 percent of all emergency calls are prank or dropped calls, while predicting recidivism remains a challenge for prison systems from Central America to the US. 

There is also the possiblity of developing mathematical models that predict which areas along a national frontier are most prone to crime or illegal crossings, research that could have significant implications for nations struggling to impose ambitious border security plans, such as Brazil. CEAMOS is currently developing one such proposal for Chile's Carabiniers, which would involve designing a model that predicts which border crossings are most likely to be used by undocumented migrants or smugglers. 

The possibility that mathematical models could help "predict" crime has echoes of a science fiction novel. But as Ordoñez says, such models "are no silver bullet."

"If these same models use bad data, they're going to produce bad results," he said. 

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

BRAZIL / 16 MAY 2017

A recent ruling from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) marks the first time the court has condemned…

EL SALVADOR / 20 AUG 2015

El Salvador is at a crossroads. Security forces and sophisticated street gangs are locked into what increasingly looks…

NICARAGUA / 20 JUL 2020

Nicaragua’s National Police is seizing large amounts of drug money while confiscating less cocaine compared to years past, calling into…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…

THE ORGANIZATION

Informing US State Department and European Union

1 APR 2022

InSight Crime Co-director McDermott briefed the US State Department and other international players on the presence of Colombian guerrillas in Venezuela and the implication this has for both nations.  McDermott…