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Computer Says No: UK Police Force Using Algorithm to Decide if Burglaries Worth Investigating

Police
Ian Gavan/Getty Images for The Canal & River Trust
JACK MONTGOMERY

Police in Norfolk, England, have dropped hundreds of burglary investigations after a computer algorithm recommended they were not worth pursuing, according to reports.

Burglaries in the United Kingdom — which are much more likely to take place while the residents are at home than in the U.S., as Britons may not keep arms for home defence — have surged in recent years, with fewer and fewer resulting in any meaningful police action as resources shrink and focus shifts to new priorities such as ‘hate incidents’.

Now the burglary ‘detection’ rate — which is already a mere 3 percent, having halved from an already low 6 percent since 2013 — looks set to decline even further with police in Norfolk trialling a computer algorithm which recommends whether or not a break-in is worth investigating.

According to the Mail on Sunday, police are “simply closing cases after the machine calculates the chances of making an arrest and recovering treasured stolen goods” without doing any detailed detective work, without victims being told what has happened.

 

“The fact that a police force would even consider this approach to investigating serious crimes such as burglary is a gross insult to the victims,” commented a spokesman for the UK Independence Party (UKIP). “The duty of the police is to serve and protect people and property.”

Norfolk Constabulary claimed the story was “inaccurate” as a staffer could, in theory, decide to override the algorithm’s decision and conduct further enquiries.

“Using the analysis of thousands of burglary cases in Norfolk, the algorithm is based on 29 factors including solvability, against which each burglary incident is assessed. This generates a recommendation on whether the case should then be allocated for further enquiries,” the force said.

“However, all cases including those in the trial, are still overseen by members of the Norfolk Investigation Management Unit and the recommendations made by the algorithm can and will be overridden if the member of staff feels there are further enquiries which need to be conducted.”

How often this has actually happened in practice is not disclosed, however.

Burglaries in the force area rose 10 percent in the year to March, with Home Office figures showing that only five out of 99 recent burglaries resulted in charges.

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