My sleep patterns are erratic (and somewhat torturous) – they range from sleeping solidly for eight hours a clip to me wandering aimlessly about the house at 3am. Unfortunately, the latter was the reality during the wee hours of Friday, July 20; I was up watching ESPN (my typical late night viewing of choice) and web surfing aimlessly on my iPad. When I surfed over to cnn.com, I saw the breaking news banner atop the page announcing a shooting in a movie theater.
Senseless killings are tragic, sad, confusing and earth-shattering for many. I am not going to pretend I understand the mindless, consciousless, gutless act – nor attempt to fathom what the victims, their families and the Aurora community and first responders are going through. All I can offer is my deepest thoughts, condolences and prayers for all affected.
I am encouraged to blog here at SAS – and I do enjoy it, but I cannot just write for the sake of writing. I need to be moved by something. This time, I was moved (angrily) by a press release I saw that speculated whether analytics could have preempted or predicted the tragedy. (Sorry, I can't bring myself to link to it.)
Let me respond to the speculation – the answer is a resounding “NO.”
The author craftily extrapolates promise from a piece of research where predictive analytics is employed – and has been deemed useful – by using years of crime data to forecast potential crime trends. Many law enforcement agencies do this every day in their crime analysis units. What the press release insinuates is that the same predictive analytics methodology can be potentially applied to predict and/or prevent such a lone gunman scenario.
Assuming their assumptions are based on facts and data, could this event have been predicted? I say absolutely not. Why? Fortunately, mass shootings do not happen often enough to forecast accurately, due to a lack of data. Another reason perhaps? We live in a free and open society where bad things happen to good people. We entrust others with our safety every single day (driving our car, riding on a plane, entering a movie theater with complete strangers). We assume that others have the same respect that we do for life, liberty and property. Sadly and evidently, this is not always the case.
I am disgusted by the acts of the gunman. Further, I am disgusted by those who will try to profit from fear from the acts of the gunman -- it is shameful, distasteful and disingenuous, at best, for an organization to raise the possibility of realizing unreachable potential. Prediction is based on data and facts; where we lack data and facts, the void is filled with potential. Such potential puts undue and unrealistic pressures on law enforcement and promotes false promises to the public.