a group of men running

Photo by Alpha Coders

Perhaps you are like us and you’ve often wondered, “if I were on the run from the law, how long would I make it before being caught?”

Data scientist Christopher Peters decided to figure it out, compiling data on the 500 criminals that have been on the FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives List since 1950. He determined how long each criminal was on the list before being caught (though some have yet to be caught).

The next step was to calculate how long the average fugitive was on the run. However, Peters couldn’t just take a simple average. The problem was that there are criminals out there still on the loose. If he omits them from the data set, that would change the question of the research to “For the criminals stupid enough to get caught, how long did they remain free?” Which isn’t the question we’re asking. 

To work around this problem, Peters sought to calculate how much longer these still-wanted criminals could expect to remain uncaught. He used a statistical tool called survival analysis (often used in medical research). This method would help estimate how much longer fugitives who haven’t been caught yet could expect to remain at-large. 

After running this analysis, Peters concluded that the average fugitive on the Most Wanted List remains free for about 1.67 years:


Source: Stat Wonk

As you can see, a fugitive’s chances don’t look so good. Only 25% of all wanted criminals had not been caught within 1 year of being put on the list. Under 10% of fugitives remained free for 5 years. Bin Laden was technically at-large for over 10 years, but he also had the luxury of heavily guarded caves and compounds. But for the most part, law enforcement does a solid job of rounding up crooks once they end up on the Most Wanted List.

But say you were on the run from the law. What’s the optimal strategy for evading the police in the long run? Do you think you could avoid being captured for longer than the median amount of time?

One forum member on Above Top Secret, a site dedicated to discussing things such as avoiding “the police state”, gives some tips on how to stay hidden from the police:

1. Never contact family directly. Always use a middle man.

2. Use cash only, $20s and under.

3. Go where there’s no one else. Woods, islands, sewer systems, etc.

4. Don’t make trouble.

5. Never stop looking over your shoulder.

Seems like a pretty good list to us. Do any would-be-criminal-masterminds reading Priceonomics have any tips for how they would avoid capture by the police? Share them in the comments. If you are currently on the run from the law, you probably should use the anonymous commenting feature though.

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