Can an Algorithm Catch a Serial Killer? | Freethink

Can an Algorithm Catch a Serial Killer? | Freethink


– Whenever I see data, I tend to think in terms of patterns. The real world is following rather simple mathematical formula. And it’s that way with murder. Most people don’t realize that we’re far less likely to solve a murder today than we were 50 years ago. My name is Thomas Hargrove, and I am the founder and chairman of the Murder Accountability Project. I’m not a police officer. Quite frankly I am just a nerd. I really know very little
about serial killers. I do know what they look like in data. For 37 years I was a newspaper reporter, and it was just the best job
there is in the universe. Increasingly I became
known as the numbers guy in the newsroom. We wanted to study why murders go unsolved and why a growing number
of murders go unsolved. And the first time I saw the
Supplementary Homicide Report by the FBI, my first thought was I wonder if we could teach a computer to spot serial killers in these data. And the answer is yes. Years before I had learned of a phenomenon called linkage blindness. The only way the murders are linked to a common offender is
if the two investigators get together by the water cooler and talk about their cases
and discover commonalities. We contacted the FBI and
got every year’s worth of reporting back to 1980. I opened it up and looked at row
after row of individual murders. It had the victim’s age, race, sex, how the victim was killed. We turned that into a nine-digit number, essentially a Dewey
Decimal System of death. During the months that I was
working on the algorithm, I had over my desk a
picture of Green River killer, Gary Ridgway. He killed 48 women in
Seattle in the ’80s and ’90s. He was looking at me for months and months while I was trying to
make an algorithm work. The only way we would
know that an algorithm was successful is if it was identifying known serial killers. What worked was a technique
called cluster analysis. And we told the computer
to cluster the data. Seattle came up clear as day
something awful had happened, and the algorithm was producing dozens and dozens of other clusters that looked just as bad as Seattle
that were not known. Like Gary, Indiana, there were actually 15 unsolved strangulations of women in the area, including 13 in Gary itself. I contacted the Gary Police Department and gave them my usual spiel. I’m Tom Hargrove, we have a method to identify serial killers. There have been too many
unsolved strangulations. What do you know about it? Absolute radio silence. They would not talk about the possibility there was a serial killer active. In 2014, just next door to Gary, Hammond police were summoned to a Motel 6. Dead woman in the bathtub. They make an arrest. Very quickly Darren
Vann started confessing that he had been at this for decades going back to the ’90s. In all, seven women died after we had tried repeatedly for months
to get them to consider the possibility that
they had a serial killer. This was, without question,
the most frustrating experience in my professional life. I have absolutely no doubt that many of the unsolved strangulation
murders of women in Gary, Indiana are Mr. Vann’s handiwork. We have more than 220,000 unsolved murders in the United States. We’ve gathered records on more than 23,000 murders that were never reported to the Justice Department. And we are continuing. We can see where unreported murders are and we go to police departments and say you must start reporting data. I’m gonna do what it takes
to start solving murder. That’s our dream and that’s why we try to take homicide data as
available as possible. There is an algorithm that can identify serial killings and does. What’s more serious than murder? What’s more serious than serial murder? What’s better than having a computer be able to identify things
that human beings are missing? Catching killers saves lives, and so whatever we can do, we’d be doing the Lord’s work.

21 thoughts to “Can an Algorithm Catch a Serial Killer? | Freethink”

  1. So many murders go unsolved because the police are too busy murdering the people they are suppose to be protecting.

  2. Great piece. When police are determined to pursue individuals for victim-less crimes (drugs), there is bound to be an increase in unsolved cases of other varieties

  3. How?! How is this channel so criminally under-viewed? I don't understand why this channel hasn't taken off like an atlas rocket.

  4. This was a nice video.. until he said "the Lord's work".. don't you know the Lord is the worst serial killer of all time? Not even Hitler could come close to the Lord's death toll.

  5. When I get older, I want to do this as my job, I want to find murderers and criminals and put them to justice for the things they did, and I think that this could help.

  6. Local police in San Diego don't report criminal acts to keep the numbers low in the statistics columns for assaults and robbery. No one needs to be warned about coming to San Diego. If you are white you had better be prepared to live in a gated community for personal safety.

  7. Yea no one in government would ever abuse this. Today it's cold cases, tomorrow they will say it can predetermine posable killers. Soon you will have the FBI telling you you have to abort your baby because there is a 10% chance he will grow up to be a murderer.

  8. This will help big time then they'll find a way to beat your numbers I wish use would of held off on releasing this because they cam switch up MO race of victim to avoid a cluster but if the stay local there done

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