When Homicide Is Treated As A Disease

4 min readMay 17, 2019

When homicide is reported in the news, very little is offered in the way of motive or analysis. All we really hear is what happened after the fact, and we are left with the impression that there is little that can be done to prevent it or even predict it. We are left with the idea that people are wrong and that the best we can hope for is to stay out of the way. Get a good job, live in a good neighborhood, and lay low. We just need to be tough on crime, and eventually, the problem will go away.

According to this article on the Tech Insider website, there might be a better solution to dealing with violent crime than what we’ve been doing so far with deterrence. Tech Insider’s article is a story of how scientists and police considered and implemented the idea of treating violent crime as a disease. In the city of Richmond, California, researchers found that from an epidemiological perspective, violent crime tends to spread like a disease and that it should be treated as such.

Their results? In the city of Richmond, California, the homicide rate dropped 76% in 7 years. That is a tremendous improvement over past achievements and proves that when we think beyond the box and become willing to try something different, we can get better results.

We find that the story is actually several layers deep when we click on the links to see the supporting references. The police department used statistics, field reporting, outreach, and analysis to determine who would be at risk to be a victim of or a perpetrator of violent crime — they used epidemiology to follow the path of this disease. Then they developed a plan for each situation where they thought someone was about to pop or be popped.

This concept reminds me of the movie, Minority Report. Though our modern day team in Richmond are not quite precogs, in this story, we have something somewhat similar to the concept in the movie. Minority Report is one of my favorite Tom Cruise movies, featuring a fascinating conception of computer user interfaces, transportation ideas, and display technologies.

Through a combination of databases and “precogs,” humans with the ability to sense what people are thinking, Tom Cruise is an investigator with a mission to predict violent crime. Likewise, the team in Richmond is using science to follow the trail of homicide and head it off to prevent killings from spreading, and it works.