Prediction Technology and Gun Violence

A Q&A with a UCIPT Postdoctoral Researcher

What can UCIPT do to help predict gun violence on UCLA’s campus?

The shooting that happened on the UCLA campus on June 1, 2016, was tragic. Predicting gun violence is an extremely complex problem. I think expertise from people in the fields of data science, psychology, public health, and criminology at UCIPT can help predict gun violence. The first step is that we need large amounts of data on people’s criminal history and social network. In order to get these data, we need to collaborate with local, state, and federal law enforcement. Dr. Miles Wernick, a professor from Illinois Institute of Technology, developed an algorithm with the Chicago police department to help predict which people are most at risk of committing or being targeted by gun violence. This algorithm assigns scores to people based on their criminal records (e.g., arrests or shootings) as well as any known gang affiliations and other variables. You can read the full story here. I believe with the appropriate data, UCIPT can apply similar techniques to help predict gun violence on the UCLA campus.     

What have you learned from the Freshman 200 study about how UCLA students respond to campus violence?

Immediately after the shooting incident on campus, we started collecting tweets coming out of the UCLA campus. Twitter’s APIs enable anyone to download tweets from a specific geographic region. We have been downloading tweets since the shooting incident. From our preliminary analysis, we have found that there was 1) a big spike in the number of tweets related to the shooting; 2) a tremendous amount of support and solidarity shown on Twitter (e.g., #bruinstrong); and 3) a lot of misinformation related to the shooting incident. We are currently working on a study to examine whether we can identify those individuals who are experiencing elevated levels of psychological distress following the shooting.

What tools exist to predict whether or not adequate counseling resources are in place to address student needs in the aftermath of campus violence?

I am not aware of any tools to predict whether or not adequate counseling resources are in place to address student needs after campus violence. Nevertheless, UCLA has done a good job providing counselors for students, faculty, and staff. Students have been instructed to contact CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) while faculty and staff can avail themselves of the Staff and Faculty Counseling Center. I think it is important for family, friends, and co-workers to encourage anyone who they think needs help to seek out counseling services.

Is there an equivalent of 911 on Twitter that people can reach out to if they are in an emergency situation?  Is there a way to receive emergency alerts via social media from UCLA security?

Social media can be a great tool to disseminate information. However, it is important to keep in mind that not everyone uses Twitter. UCLA has its own system called Bruin Alert. This system alerts UCLA students, faculty, and staff about emergencies on campus via text messages or email. This system was extremely effective during the shooting incident at UCLA. BruinAlert also has a Twitter account (@UCLABruinAlert) that will alert its followers. I think these systems are critical to getting the right information out to help people stay safe during emergency situations.

What recommendations can you provide to UCLA campus security to prepare for gun violence going forward? 

I think UCLA, Los Angeles, and federal law enforcement did a good job responding to the UCLA shooting incident. UCLA campus security worked well with other agencies in handling the emergency. Gun violence and control is an extremely complex issue. There are several UCLA experts that have commented on this issue, which you can find here. I think one of the best ways to prepare for gun violence is to prevent it. A public health approach to preventing gun violence recognizes that violence is contagious and can become epidemic within a society. According to the American Public Health Association, the following are needed to enhance America’s public health response to gun violence:

Primary prevention involves the use of core public health activities to interrupt the transmission of violence: (1) surveillance to track gun-related deaths and injuries, gain insight into the causes of gun violence and assess the impact of interventions; (2) identifying risk factors associated with gun violence (e.g., poverty and depression) and resilience or protective factors that guard against gun violence (e.g., youth access to trusted adults); (3) developing, implementing and evaluating interventions to reduce risk factors and build resilience; and (4) institutionalizing successful prevention strategies.

You can read the full set of recommendations here.

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