Predictive Policing and Applied Behavior Analysis


By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

Founding Editor,

According to CBS News in San Francisco, police are cracking down on bike theft in the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system with predictive policing.  BART has recently experienced a major uptick in the number of bicycle commuters utilizing the system, which brought with it an increase in bike theft.  

Turns out crime analysts have figured out a pattern to the thefts to such an extent that BART police are able to place undercover police at those locations before the incident.  Plans are already underway to expand operations to BART parking lots.

From the perspective of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) BART is using a descriptive assessment to determine the conditions under which thefts are most likely to occur.  Interestingly, in this case, the assessment is focused on groups rather than the behavior of individuals — but individual behavior is not really of concern here and would be impractical given the problem at hand.  

The question of “which individuals” are committing thefts isn’t nearly as important as the incidence (i.e., rate in a given population) and prevalence (i.e., how many people in a given population) of thefts themselves.  Such measures may be properly termed “sociological” rather than “behavioral.”  But that doesn’t mean behavior analysts can’t participate in interdisciplinary work on cultural phenomenon.  On the contrary, Biglan’s (1995) book Changing Cultural Practices: A Contextualist Framework for Intervention Research presents a thoroughly behavioral overview of cultural change work with incidence and prevalence as central measures.  Though 20 years old now, the book is a must-read for behavior analysts interested in cultural phenomena.

So what do you think?  Let us know in the comments below, and remember to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!


Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns and  Todd serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues.  He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at [email protected].

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