Crime Prevention in San Francisco using XGBoost and Python

This tutorial predicts crime types in San Francisco (SF) and plots them on a zoomable city map. We work with a Kaggle dataset containing past crimes and distinguish between 39 crime types, including vehicle theft, assault, and drug-related activities. We then use Python and Scikit-Learn to train a classification model that predicts crime types based on when and where they occurred. Our prediction model uses the robust classification algorithm XGboost. We also visualize crime types on a geographic crime map of San Francisco using the Plotly Python library. The result is an SF crime map that highlights crime hot spots and gives an overview of neighborhoods where certain crime types are particularly prevalent. The San Francisco Police Department uses similar crime prediction models and maps to determine how to preemptively allocate its resources to at-risk streets and neighborhoods.

Crime Map of San Francisco - Kaggle Crime Prediction Challenge. Crim Classification XGBoost
Crime map of San Francisco, created with Python and Plotly

The remainder of this article proceeds as follows. We begin by downloading and preprocessing the San Francisco crime data. We then use the data to train two different classification models. One uses a standard Random Forecast Classifier. The second uses the XGboost Packages. We train several models with different hyperparameters. Finally, we visualize the predictions on an SF crime map and compare the performance of the different models.

Creating an SF crime map in Python: Predicting Crime Types with XGBoost

In the following, we develop a gradient-boosting multi-label classifier (XGboost) that predicts crime types in San Francisco. The result is a San Francisco crime map that gives a quick overview of crime hot spots. In addition, the SF crime map will highlight crime clusters, which are areas in which certain crime types occur most often.

The code is available on the GitHub repository.


Before starting the Python coding part, ensure that you have set up your Python 3 environment and required packages. If you don’t have an environment yet, you can follow this tutorial to set up the Anaconda environment.

Also, make sure you install all required packages. In this tutorial, we will be working with the following standard packages: 

In addition, we will be using Keras (2.0 or higher) with Tensorflow backend and the machine learning library scikit-learn. In addition, we will be using the Plotly Python library for visualization.

You can install packages using console commands:

  • pip install <package name>
  • conda install <package name> (if you are using the anaconda packet manager)

Step #1 Load the Data

We begin by downloading the San Francisco crime challenge data on Once you have downloaded the dataset, place the CSV files (train.csv) into your Python working folder.

The dataset was collected by the SFO police department between 2003 and 2015. According to the data description from the SF crime challenge, the dataset contains the following variables:

  • Dates: timestamp of the crime incident
  • Category: Category of the crime incident (only in train.csv) that we will use as the target variable
  • Descript: detailed description of the crime incident (only in train.csv)
  • DayOfWeek: the day of the week
  • PdDistrict: the name of the Police Department District
  • Resolution: how the crime incident was resolved (only in train.csv)
  • Address: the approximate street address of the crime incident 
  • X: Longitude
  • Y: Latitude

The next step is to load the data into a dataframe. Then we use the head() command to print the first five lines and ensure you can see the data.

import numpy as np # linear algebra
import pandas as pd # data processing, CSV file I/O (e.g. pd.read_csv)
import seaborn as sns
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt 
from sklearn.model_selection import train_test_split
from sklearn.ensemble import RandomForestClassifier
from sklearn.metrics import classification_report, confusion_matrix
from xgboost import XGBClassifier
import as px

# The Data is part of the Kaggle Competition:
df_base = pd.read_csv("data/crime/sf-crime/train.csv")


If the data was loaded correctly, you should see the first five records of the dataframe, as shown above.

Step #2 Explore the Data

At the beginning of a new project, we usually don’t understand the data well and need to acquire that understanding. Therefore, next, we will explore the data and familiarize ourselves with its characteristics.

The following examples will help us better understand our data’s characteristics. For example, you can use whisker charts and a correlation matrix to understand better the correlation between variables, such as between weekdays and prediction categories. Feel free to create more charts.

2.1 Prediction Labels

Running the code below shows a bar plot of the prediction labels. The plot shows the frequency in which the class labels occur in the data.

# print the value counts of the categories
ax = sns.countplot(x = df_base['Category'], orient='v', order = df_base['Category'].value_counts().index)
ax.set_xticklabels(ax.get_xticklabels(),rotation = 90)
crime types in San Francisco

As shown above, our class labels are highly imbalanced, affecting model accuracy. When we evaluate the performance of our model, we need to consider this.

2.2 When a Crime Occured – Considering Dates and Time

We assume that when a crime occurs impacts the type of crime. For this reason, we look at how crimes distribute across different days of the week and times of the day. First, we look at crime numbers per weekdays.

# Print Crime Counts per Weekday
ax = sns.countplot(y = df_base['DayOfWeek'], orient='h', order = df_base['DayOfWeek'].value_counts().index)
ax.set_xticklabels(ax.get_xticklabels(),rotation = 90)

Fewer crimes happen on Sundays, and most are on Friday. So it seems that even criminals like to have a weekend. For the sake of clarity, we thereby limit the categories. Let’s take a look at the time when certain crimes are reported.

# Convert the time to minutes
df_base['Hour_Min'] = pd.to_datetime(df_base['Dates']).dt.hour  + pd.to_datetime(df_base['Dates']).dt.minute / 60

# Print Crime Counts per Time and Category
df_base_filtered = df_base[df_base['Category'].isin([

ax = sns.displot(x = 'Hour_Min', hue="Category", data = df_base_filtered, kind="kde", height=8, aspect=1.5)
different crime types in San Francisco and how often they occur during the day

In addition, the time when a crime happens affects the likelihood of certain types. For example, we can see that FRAUD rarely occurs at night and usually during the day. We can see that criminals often go to work in the afternoon and at midnight. On the other hand, certain crimes such as VEHICLE THEFT mainly occur at night and late afternoon but less often in the morning.

If you want to gain an overview of additional features, you can use the pair plot function. Because our dataset is large, we reduce the computation time by plotting 1/100 of the data.

sns.pairplot(data = df_base_filtered[0::100], height=4, aspect=1.5, hue='Category')
pairplot by category, san francisco crime map

2.3 Where a Crime Occured – Considering Address

Next, we look at the address information, from which we can often extract additional information. We do this by printing some sample address values.

# Extracting information from the streetnames
for i in df_base['Address'][0:10]:

The street names alone are not so helpful. However, the address data does provide additional information. For example, it tells us whether the location is a street intersection or not. In addition, it contains the type of street. This information is valuable because now we can extract parts of the text and use them as separate features.

We could do a lot more, but we’ve got a good enough idea of the data.

Step #3 Data Preprocessing

Probably the most exciting and important aspect of model development is feature engineering. Compared to model parameterization, the right features can often achieve more significant leaps in performance.

3.1 Remarks on Data Preprocessing for XGBoost

When preprocessing the data, it is helpful to know which algorithms to use because some algorithms are picky about the shape of the data. We will prepare the data to train a gradient boosting model (XGBoost). This algorithm uses a random forest ensemble, which can only handle integer and Boolean values, but no categorical data. Therefore we need to encode our values. We also need to map the categorical labels to integer values.

We don’t need to scale the continuous feature variables because gradient boosting and decision trees, generally, are not sensitive to variables that have different scales.

3.2 Feature Engineering

Based on the data exploration that we have done in the previous section, we create three feature types:

  • Date & Time: When a crime happens is essential. For example, when there is a lot of traffic on the street, there is a higher likelihood of traffic-related crimes. For example, when it is Saturday, more people will usually come to the nightlife district, which attracts certain crimes, e.g., drug-related. Therefore, we will create different features for the time, the day, the month, and the year.
  • Address: As mentioned, we will extract additional features from the address column. First, we create different features for the street type (for example, ST, AV, WY, TR, DR). In addition, we check whether the address contains the word “Block.” In addition, we will let our model know whether the address is a street crossing.
  • Latitude & Longitude: We will transform the latitude and longitude values into polar coordinates. We will also remove some outliers from the dataset whose latitude is far off the grid. Above all, this will make it easier for our model to make sense of the location.

Considering these features, the primary input to our crime type prediction model is the information when and where a crime occurs.

# Processing Function for Features
def cart2polar(x, y):
    dist = np.sqrt(x**2 + y**2)
    phi = np.arctan2(y, x)
    return dist, phi

def preprocessFeatures(dfx):
    # Time Feature Engineering
    df = pd.get_dummies(dfx[['DayOfWeek' , 'PdDistrict']])
    df['Hour_Min'] = pd.to_datetime(dfx['Dates']).dt.hour + pd.to_datetime(dfx['Dates']).dt.minute / 60
    # We add a feature that contains the expontential time
    df['Hour_Min_Exp'] = np.exp(df['Hour_Min'])
    df['Day'] = pd.to_datetime(dfx['Dates'])
    df['Month'] = pd.to_datetime(dfx['Dates']).dt.month
    df['Year'] = pd.to_datetime(dfx['Dates']).dt.year

    month_one_hot_encoded = pd.get_dummies(pd.to_datetime(dfx['Dates']).dt.month, prefix='Month')
    df = pd.concat([df, month_one_hot_encoded], axis=1, join="inner")
    # Convert Carthesian Coordinates to Polar Coordinates
    df[['X', 'Y']] = dfx[['X', 'Y']] # we maintain the original coordindates as additional features
    df['dist'], df['phi'] = cart2polar(dfx['X'], dfx['Y'])
    # Extracting Street Types
    df['Is_ST'] = dfx['Address'].str.contains(" ST", case=True)
    df['Is_AV'] = dfx['Address'].str.contains(" AV", case=True)
    df['Is_WY'] = dfx['Address'].str.contains(" WY", case=True)
    df['Is_TR'] = dfx['Address'].str.contains(" TR", case=True)
    df['Is_DR'] = dfx['Address'].str.contains(" DR", case=True)
    df['Is_Block'] = dfx['Address'].str.contains(" Block", case=True)
    df['Is_crossing'] = dfx['Address'].str.contains(" / ", case=True)
    return df

# Processing Function for Labels
def encodeLabels(dfx):
    df = pd.DataFrame (columns = [])
    factor = pd.factorize(dfx['Category'])
    return factor

# Remove Outliers by Longitude
df_cleaned = df_base[df_base['Y']<70]

# Encode Labels as Integer
factor = encodeLabels(df_cleaned)
y_df = factor[0]
labels = list(factor[1])
# for val, i in enumerate(labels):
#     print(val, i)

We could also try to further improve our features by using additional data sources, such as weather data. However, there is no guarantee that this will improve the model results, and it did not in the case of the criminal records. Therefore, we have omitted this part.

Step #4 Visualize the Crime Types on a City Map of San Francisco

Next, we create a San Francisco crime map using the cartesian coordinates indicating where a crime has occurred. First, we only plot the data without a geographical map. Later we will use these spatial data to create a dot plot and overlay it with a map of San Francisco. Visualizing the crime types on a map helps us understand how different crime types distribute across the city.

4.1 Plot Crime Types using a Scatter Plot

Next, we want to gain an overview of possible spatial patterns and hotspots. We expect to see streets and neighborhoods where certain crimes are more common than in the more expensive areas of the city. In addition, we expect to see places in the city where certain crime types occur relatively rarely. To gain an overview of the crime distribution in San Francisco, we use a scatter plot to display the crime coordinates on a blank chart.

Running the code below creates the crime map of San Francisco with all crime types. Depending on the speed of your machine, the creation of the map may take several minutes.

# Plot Criminal Activities by Lat and Long
df_filtered = df_cleaned.sample(frac=0.05)  
#df_filtered = df_cleaned[df_cleaned['Category'].isin(['PROSTITUTION', 'VEHICLE THEFT', 'FRAUD'])].sample(frac=0.05) # to filter 

groups = df_filtered.groupby('Category')

fig, ax = plt.subplots(sharex=False, figsize=(20, 12))
ax.margins(0.05) # Optional, just adds 5% padding to the autoscaling
for name, group in groups:
    ax.plot(group['X'], group['Y'], marker='.', linestyle='', label=name, alpha=0.9)
Crime Map of San Francisco (sf crime map) - Kaggle Crime Prediction Challenge. Classification with XGBoost

The plot shows that certain streets in San Francisco are more prone to specific crime types than others. It is also clear that there are certain crime hotspots in the city, especially in the center. We can also see that few crimes are reported in public park areas.

4.2 Create a Crime Map of San Francisco using Plotly

Next, we will create a San Francisco crime map using the Plotly Python library. Because the plugin can handle a limited amount of data simultaneously, we will reduce our data to a fraction of 1% and a few selected crime types.

Running the code below opens a _map.html file in your browser that displays the SF crime map. The result is a zoomable geographic map of San Francisco that shows how the selected crime types distribute across the city.

# 4.2 Create a Crime Map of San Francisco using Plotly
# Limit the data to a fraction and selected categories
df_filtered = df_cleaned.sample(frac=0.01) 
fig = px.scatter_mapbox(df_filtered, lat="Y", lon="X", hover_name="Category", color='Category', hover_data=["Y", "X"], zoom=12, height=800)
Crime Map of San Francisco (SF Crime Map) - Kaggle Crime Prediction Challenge. Crime Classification XGBoost

The SF crime map shows different types of crimes, including prostitution, vehicle theft, and fraud. The interactive map allows you to change zoom levels and filter the type of crime displayed on the map. For example, if you filter DRUG/NARCOTIC-related crimes, you can see that these crimes mainly occur in the city center near the financial district and the nightlife area.

Step #5 Split the Data

Before training our predictive model, we will split our data into separate datasets for training and testing. For this purpose, we use the train_test_split function of scikit-learn and configure a split ratio of 70%. Then we output the data, which we employ in the next step to train and validate a model.

# Create train_df & test_df
x_df = preprocessFeatures(df_cleaned).copy()

# Split the data into x_train and y_train data sets
x_train, x_test, y_train, y_test = train_test_split(x_df, y_df, train_size=0.7, random_state=0)

Step #6 Train a Random Forest Classifier

We can train the predictive models now that we have prepared the data. We train a basic model based on the Random Forest algorithm in the first step. The Random Forest is a robust algorithm that can handle regression and classification problems. One of our recent articles provides more information on Random Forests and how you can find the optimal configuration of their hyperparameters. In this tutorial, we use the Random Forest to establish a baseline against which we can measure the performance of our XGboost model. We, therefore, use the Random Forest with a simple parameter configuration without tuning the hyperparameters.

# Train a single random forest classifier - parameters are a best guess
clf = RandomForestClassifier(max_depth=100, random_state=0, n_estimators = 200), y_train.ravel())
y_pred = clf.predict(x_test)

results_log = classification_report(y_test, y_pred)

The baseline model is a random forest classifier that scores 31% percent accuracy on the test dataset.

Step #7 Train an XGBoost Classifier

Now that we have a baseline model, we can train our gradient boosting classifier using the XGBoost package. We expect this model to perform better than the baseline.

7.1 About Gradient Boosting

XGBoost is an implementation of a gradient boosting algorithm that uses a decision-tree-based ensemble machine learning algorithm. The algorithm searches for an optimal ensemble of trees. In this process, the algorithm iteratively adds trees to the model or removes them to reduce the prediction error of the previous tree constellation. The algorithm repeats these steps until it can make no further improvements. Thus, training does not optimize the model against the predictions but the previous model’s residuals (prediction errors).

But XGBoost does more! It is an extreme version of gradient boosting that uses additional optimization techniques to achieve the best result with minimal effort. In contrast to the random decision forest, the XGBoost classification algorithm determines an optimal number of trees in the training process. We do not have to specify this number in advance.

A disadvantage of XGBoost is that it tends to overfit the data. Therefore, testing against unseen data is essential. This tutorial will test only against a single test sample for simplicity, but I want to denote that using cross-validation would be a better choice.

7.2 Train the XGBoost Classifier

Various Gradient Boosting Algorithms are available for Python, including one from scikit-learn. However, scikit-learn does not support multi-threading, which makes the training process slower than necessary. For this reason, we will use the gradient boosting classifier from the XGBoost package.

# Configure the XGBoost model
param = {'booster': 'gbtree', 
         'tree_method': 'gpu_hist',
         'predictor': 'gpu_predictor',
         'max_depth': 140, 
         'eta': 0.3, 
         'objective': '{multi:softmax}', 
         'eval_metric': 'mlogloss', 
         'num_round': 30,
         'feature_selector ': 'cyclic'

xgb_clf = XGBClassifier(param), y_train.ravel())
score = xgb_clf.score(x_test, y_test.ravel())

# Create predictions on the test dataset
y_pred = xgb_clf.predict(x_test)

# Print a classification report
results_log = classification_report(y_test, y_pred)

Now that we have trained our classification model, let’s see how it performs. For this purpose, we will generate predictions (y_pred) on the test dataset (x_test). Afterward, we use the predictions and the valid values (y_test) to create a classification report.

Our model achieves an accuracy score of 31%. At first hand, this might look not so good, but considering that we have 39 categories and only sparse information available, this performance is quite impressive.

Step #8 Measure Model Performance

So how well does our XGboost model perform? To measure the performance of our model, we create a confusion matrix that visualizes the performance of the XGboost classifier. If you want to learn more about measuring the performance of classification models, check out this tutorial on measuring classification performance.

Running the code below creates the confusion matrix that shows the number of correct and false predictions for each crime category.

# Print a multi-Class Confusion Matrix
cnf_matrix = confusion_matrix(y_test.reshape(-1), y_pred)
df_cm = pd.DataFrame(cnf_matrix, columns=np.unique(y_test), index = np.unique(y_test)) = 'Actual' = 'Predicted'
plt.figure(figsize = (16,12))
sns.set(font_scale=1.4) #for label size
sns.heatmap(df_cm, cbar=True, cmap= "inferno", annot=False, fmt='.0f' #, annot_kws={"size": 13}
Evaluating the performance of our XGboost classifier

The confusion matrix shows that our model frequently predicts crime category two and neglects the other crime types. The reason is the uneven distribution of crime types in the training data. As a result, when we evaluate the model, we need to pay attention to the importance of the different crime types. For example, we might train the model to predict certain crime types accurately, although this might come at a lower accuracy when predicting other crime types. However, such optimizations depend on the technical context and the goals one wants to achieve with the prediction model.


This tutorial has trained an XGBoost model that predicts crime types in San Francisco. In addition, you have learned how to work with spatial data. We have created an interactive crime map of San Francisco with the Plotly Python library. Finally, we have used the prediction model to make test predictions and evaluate the model performance against other algorithms, such as a classic Random Decision Forest. The XGBoost model achieves a prediction accuracy of about 31%—a respectable performance, considering that the prediction problem involves 39 different crime classes.

We hope this tutorial was helpful. If you have any questions or suggestions on what we could improve, feel free to post them in the comments. We appreciate your feedback.

Looking for more esciting map vizualizations? Consider the relataly tutorial on visualizing COVID-19 data on geographic heatmaps using GeoPandas.


  • Hi, I am Florian, a Zurich-based consultant for AI and Data. Since the completion of my Ph.D. in 2017, I have been working on the design and implementation of ML use cases in the Swiss financial sector. I started this blog in 2020 with the goal in mind to share my experiences and create a place where you can find key concepts of machine learning and materials that will allow you to kick-start your own Python projects.

  • Hi, I am a student at the Technical University of Munich and currently pursuing a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering and Information Technology. I am very passionate about Machine Learning, Software Development, and Signal Processing.

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