Predicting future crimes does sound, well, futuristic, said Berk. Even his students at the University of Pennsylvania compare his research to the Tom Cruise movie "Minority Report."
Nevertheless, he said, "We aren't anywhere near being able to do that."
Scientifically, Berk's results are "very impressive," said Shawn Bushway, a professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Albany who is familiar with Berk's research.
Predicting rare events like murder, even among high-risk individuals, is extremely difficult, said Bushway, and Berk is doing a better job of it than anyone else.
But Berk's scientific answer leaves policymakers with difficult questions, said Bushway. By labeling one group of people as high risk, and monitoring them with increased vigilance, there should be fewer murders, which the potential victims should be happy about.
It also means that those high-risk individuals will be monitored more aggressively. For inmate rights advocates, that is tantamount to harassment, "punishing people who, most likely, will not commit a crime in the future," said Bushway.