If you enjoy reading mystery novels or watching that type of thing on television, you probably have heard of ViCAP, the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program. In most mysteries, the detectives can input information about their particular crime, and voila! A pattern emerges that sets them on the trail of a serial killer or a serial rapist. Aren’t statistics wonderful?
The problem is, all of that is fiction. Yes, ViCAP exists. Yes, when it’s used properly, it’s helpful. But submitting data to ViCAP is voluntary, and most police departments don’t take it seriously. Less data, less value. Less value, less desire to input data. And with most police budgets shrinking, they really don’t have the time or the manpower to input their information anyway. So, yeah, ViCAP is more of a success in theory than in practice.
I find this supremely frustrating, because data and its analysis is an extremely useful tool. It really amazes me that agencies that are so male dominated aren’t loving the statistics. Most guys can rattle off sports data as if it should be common knowledge. They take their fantasy football seriously. Why they don’t want to apply that to their jobs is beyond me.
I’m not the only one who’s frustrated, though. According to an article entitled, “Serial Killers Should Fear This Algorithm”, A guy named Thomas Hargrove has created a database that’s even more interesting than ViCAP, and it’s publicly accessible. It’s called MAP, or the Murder Accountability Project.
MAP identified a serial killer in the Gary, Indiana area, and yet the local police didn’t take it seriously when Hargrove pointed this out to them on multiple occasions. They were forced to do so, however, when they finally caught Darren Deon Vann, who led them to several of his victims, and admitted he had been killing for years. If local police had listened to Hargrove when he first approached them, seven of the victims might be alive today.
Here’s a bone chilling thought: Hargrove believes that every city has at least a few serial killers. That’s one of the reasons why he has made his database publicly accessible. That way the general public can see these patterns for themselves. It’s also an open fact that the closure rate for murder investigations is getting worse with each passing year, so clearly law enforcement needs a change in tactics, and data analysis could very well be that much-needed change.
If you read the article mentioned above, you’ll get a good sense of how the MAP database works. Then, hop on over to the database itself, and you’ll be bowled over by the articles on the homepage which indicate that so many homicides are not reported that MAP is actually suing the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs for failing to obey a 3l year old congressional mandate says these homicides must be reported.
If we actually had good, accurate, up to date data, which MAP is attempting to achieve for the first time in our history, this algorithm would spot trends across towns, districts and states that have been previously overlooked. We have many more ways to communicate and share information than we once did. These killers would find it a lot harder to hide. Justice would be served and a lot of grieving families would finally get the closure that they deserve.
Meanwhile, if someone you love has been a victim of a violent crime, or if you are stuck at home and itching for a way to make a difference, I urge you to dive into the MAP database and spot a few trends for yourself.
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