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Data Analytics: Crunching the Future

New analytics technology is predicting what you’re about to do next

The technicians at SecureAlert’s monitoring center in Salt Lake City sit in front of computer screens filled with multicolored dots. Each dot represents someone on parole or probation wearing one of the company’s location-reporting ankle cuffs. As the people move around a city, their dots move around the map. “It looks a bit like an animated gumball machine,” says Steven Florek, SecureAlert’s vice-president of offender insights and knowledge management. As long as the gumballs don’t go where they’re not supposed to, all is well.

The company works with law enforcement agencies around the U.S. to keep track of about 15,000 ex-cons, meaning it must collect and analyze billions of GPS signals transmitted by the cuffs each day. The more traditional part of the work consists of making sure that people under house arrest stay in their houses. But advances in the way information is collected and sorted mean SecureAlert isn’t just watching; the company says it can actually predict when a crime is about to go down. If that sounds like the “pre-cogs”—crime prognosticators—in the movie Minority Report, Florek thinks so, too. He calls SecureAlert’s newest capability “pre-crime” detection.