Statistics is all about measuring and finding patterns in data which offer up information and solutions. It’s a ‘toolbox’ – a range of tools such as distributions, equations and models – which can be used to work things out in different arenas. It’s a matter of picking the right tool.
The Metro today ran a short piece ‘Gangs really do act like animals’ on a just-published, University of California study has used a tool – Lotka-Volterra equations (also known as predator-prey equations) - used since the 1930s by ecologists to model the way bees, chimps and lions compete for resources- to get a grip on gang crime. UCLA researchers have found links between between the way hunting animals map out their territory and the behaviour of street gangs especially in terms of their “range”
By modelling police record data and other data on the gang’s bases, researchers have worked out that 99.8% of crimes could be expected to occur within one mile of the borders between rival gangs (nearly 60% of crimes within 1/5 of a mile, nearly 90% within 2/5 of a mile).
What solutions do these new findings offer? researchers have been able to identify the real boundaries between gangs….ones that don’t just follow streets but run through backyards and alleyways. This new knowledge wil help the police to focus their efforts, allocate resources and achieve better outcomes. And incidentally, the study also offers an evidence-informed warning …. gut instinct might suggest that wandering into the heart of known gang territory would be the most dangerous thing to do….but most crime, it would appear, actually happens on or near the borders between rival gangs.