Weighted-average analysis can help avoid crimes

In our business, we focus a lot on the use of weighted averages in analyzing business problems. An article in today’s WSJ discusses the seemingly disproportionate and unexpected role of Chuck E. Cheese restaurants in arrests for fights.

This article reminded me of an idea I had many years ago while interning at the Tompkins County District Attorney’s office during the summer after my first year at law school. The county, unlike some others, did not have a designated public defender‘s office. To meet its 6th amendment right to counsel obligations, the county paid private attorneys to take on criminal matters for appropriate defendants at public expense.

During my few months in the office, and after viewing hundreds of defendants come before the state and local courts, it seemed to me that there were several “frequent fliers” in the county’s criminal justice system. At that time, and considering only the easily measured out-of-pocket costs of providing a free criminal defense to these defendants, I wondered whether the county might make an attempt to provide an incentive for certain residents to relocate, in the form of a cash/cash-equivalent payment. At the time, I thought primarily about the esoteric constitutional law issues (being in law school makes you susceptible to this sort of thing).

Since that time, however, law enforcement tools have gotten much better at tracking crimes through GIS data, meaning the application of geographic information to incident reports, arrests, and related data. Now, municipalities can take a different view of activities by employing data-driven analysis (DDA) as described by ThoughtStorm, to eliminate biases (that are more often subject to court challenge) and instead focus on what is in fact actually happening. Weighted-average analysis is one key component, that allows for correcting for factors that are obvious in hindsight but not at first glance, such as resident population or numbers of visitors. (Was it really more dangerous to be in Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield than in Detroit? Is spring break really a lawless time in Daytona Beach? A comparison with similar populations is almost always more illuminating than raw number comparisons.)

What does this mean for Chuck E. Cheese? Keep making changes, before someone offers to pay for the U-Haul.