GA-CCRi Analytical Development Services

Evaluating Spatial Predictions

The Analytics X Prize evaluates entries by comparing the RMSE of the predicted proportion of homicides per zip code versus the actual proportion of homicides per zip code.  RMSE is a standard way of comparing the predictive quality of models but suffers from a coarseness of resolution.

I would like to discuss what I think is a more intuitive method for evaluating spatial predictive models.  The problem of predicting crime can be thought of as a resource allocation problem.  Law enforcement would like to answer the question “If we were to surveil X percentage of the area in our jurisdiction, what percentage Y of crime would we prevent?”.  If we assume that police presence and surveillance of an area where a crime is going occur prevents that crime all the time, then if the police were able to surveil 100% of the area they would stop 100% of the crime.  Of course, this is impossible, hence the resource allocation perspective of this problem.  A modified ROC plot that we call a Surveillance Plot is an intuitive visual display of the effectiveness of a spatial predictive model.  The following evaluation plot was produced on a model generated against Philadelphia homicide data up to November 2009 and then evaluated against data for the month of December 2009.


The x-axis represents the percentage of the area is surveilled.  The y-axis represents the proportion of homicides that occurred in the area that has been surveilled.  So, if law enforcement surveilled the top 20% most threatened areas according to the predictive model, they would prevent 62.5% of homicides.

This kind of evaluation scales with the resolution of the prediction.  The resolution of the model I am using broke Philadelphia into a grid of cells that are 56ft by 59ft.  That is then the smallest incremental unit by which I can evaluate the resulting prediction.  The resolution can be tweaked to a level appropriate for the resource allocation problem the law enforcement community faces. 

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