Anthony Cilluffo: using data science to enhance public policy

Friday, Jul 2, 2021
by Sharon Adarlo

Anthony Cilluffo, 27, master’s degree ‘21


This spring, Cilluffo earned a master’s degree in public affairs at Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) with a focus on economics and public policy. He also completed the graduate certificate program at the Center for Statistics and Machine Learning (CSML).

Before coming to Princeton, Cilluffo earned bachelor’s degrees in economics and political science from the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa, Florida in 2016, where he also minored in mathematics. During his undergraduate years, he attended the General Course at the London School of Economics.


Cilluffo tackled a thorny and hot button subject for his research project: police misconduct.

“Police departments are grappling with how to respond to public demands for accountability and reform. One way to improve policing is to provide targeted training to officers most likely to commit actions that breach the public’s trust in police,” he said.

In order find police officers who could benefit from additional training, he turned to data science. He took a public data set of NYPD complaints from the 1980s to 2019 and developed a model to predict officers most likely to have a substantiated complaint against them.

“I trained random forest and naive Bayes classifiers for this task,” said Cilluffo about some of the data science techniques he used. “Overall, the results using publicly available data offer a promising view of the possible results using more detailed personnel data inside the NYPD.”

In a big picture scheme, Cilluffo said this kind of example and other scenarios, such as pinpointing children who are most likely to have lead poisoning, show how data science can help public agencies develop and enact more holistic, better policies while operating with a shrinking budget.

“These agencies can be more efficient and more targeted in achieving their goals with fewer and fewer resources,” he said.

“However, it's important to carefully think about the data we use and the people whose stories are not included,” he added. “Our analysis may miss them, but the programs we create need to work just as well for them as anyone else.”

Cilluffo found his time in the CSML certificate program to be very valuable in enhancing his “tool box.”

“I really think that the classes that I took for the CSML graduate certificate were some of the most rewarding that I took during my time at Princeton,” he said. “Especially the machine learning classes - that is something that I really wanted to learn more about.”

His interest in data science was piqued during his time as a research analyst at Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., which had started a data science team.

“They were doing a lot of really cool initial work and there was a lot of buzz and interest in what they could do to move social science research forward,” he said.

Besides his work experience at Pew Research Center, he was a legislative intern at the Florida Legislative Office of Economic and Demographic Research in Tallahassee, Florida, and has served as a research assistant to political science Professor Susan MacManus at USF. In addition, he is a freelance writer and editor for the Sayfie Media Group, a top Florida political news website.

Cilluffo is currently seeking work in the public policy arena where he can utilize his skill set and experience.

Extracurricular Activities:

Cilluffo was a tax preparation volunteer with Arm-In-Arm, a Trenton food pantry. As part of this partnership with SPIA, students go into disadvantaged neighborhoods in Trenton and help people prepare and file their taxes. Cilluffo helped over 50 individuals complete their federal and state income tax returns.

For Fun:

Cilluffo loves reading or watching material on history such as Ancient Rome and the French Revolution.


Cilluffo can be reached at: