Crime and the Crystal Ball: Matt Barter '08

Manchester Police Detective Matthew Barter is predicting future criminal activity without using a crystal ball. Through a combination of current technology and traditional policing, Barter and the
department are working to reduce the crime rate in the Queen City.

Matt Barter '08The former Criminal Justice major tells a story of how the Manchester, N.H. Police Department’s “hot spot” patrolling made a drug bust during a routine traffic violation. A “hot spot” is an area of the city likely to see more crime during a particular time frame. Barter identifies them with a computer program he developed to predict where crime will likely occur.

“The officer was doing a ‘hot spot’ patrol at a targeted intersection,” Barter recalls. “He saw a truck roll through a stop sign, but when the vehicle pulled over for the officer, the driver fled on foot. On investigation, he was found to have multiple warrants out and several different drugs in his possession.”

Barter was “one of those kids who always wanted to be a police officer.” A native of Portland, Maine, he was hired by the Manchester P.D. right out of college.

In 2013, Barter made a proposal to then-chief David Mara about predictive analysis, using existing data to predict future events. A friend’s father at IBM alerted Barter to the technology which he
learned more about in graduate school at Boston University. The Assistant Chief at the time, Nick Willard (now Manchester’s Chief) also liked the idea.

“We divide the city into 500-square-foot grids,” Barter explains. “Each grid has predictors of crime–what happened last month? Did the same types of crimes happen at this time last year? How did crimes occur there?”

By focusing on robbery, theft and theft from vehicles, Barter says predictive analysis helps establish patterns and even helps deal with the fallout of the opioid crisis, mes committed by users who need money. In the first 10 weeks of deployment, robberies dropped 24 percent, burglaries 13 percent and thefts from vehicles 34 percent.

Barter credits Saint Anselm with helping him understand research and theory, and to apply that to what is going down on the street. “Saint Anselm taught me to think outside the box, and to think
critically.”

By Kathleen D. Bailey
Photo by Gil Talbot