Carnegie Mellon University
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Point Process Modeling with Spatiotemporal Covariates for Predicting Crime

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posted on 2018-07-19, 00:00 authored by Alex ReinhartAlex Reinhart
Self-exciting point processes are widely used to model events occurring in time and space whose rate depends on the past history of the process, such as earthquake
aftershocks, crime, and neural spike trains. By modeling the event rate as the sum of a background (or immigrant) process, often an inhomogeneous Poisson process, and
an offspring process consisting of events triggered by previous events, self-exciting point process models naturally account for complex clustering behavior. When the
model is physically motivated, as are models of earthquake aftershock sequences, model parameters have direct interpretations in terms of the generative mechanism.
In this thesis, I focus in particular on the application of self-exciting point processes to crime. Crime rates are known to vary greatly in space within a city, as a result of many demographic and economic factors, and crime often exhibits “nearrepeats,” when one crime is followed by another soon after, either from retaliation or because offenders tend to return to the same areas. Point process models have
been used to predict crime, but the available models can be improved: they cannot explicitly account for spatially varying covariates and estimate their effects, and there are no inference tools that could be used to test criminological theories or evaluate interventions. After extensively reviewing the literature on self-exciting point processes, I introduce
a new model which accounts for both spatial covariates and self-excitation, and explore its benefits over simple lagged regressions and other commonly used methods. After discussing computational issues in fitting the model, I use simulations to explore methods for parameter inference, review a set of residual diagnostics and animations, and use these diagnostics to explore the model’s behavior under
various forms of model misspecification, giving practical advice for the interpretation of model fits. To demonstrate the model’s utility, I then analyze large databases
of Pittsburgh and Baltimore crime records, linking crime rates to several relevant spatial covariate and leading indicator events, and comparing several model variations.




Degree Type

  • Dissertation


  • Statistics

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Joel Greenhouse

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