John Anderton is the founder and head of Precrime, which stops future crimes from occurring by gathering data from three precogs—humans gifted with precognition, now reduced to caged idiot savants as their babble is recorded and collated. The day that a new assistant, Ed Witwer, joins, Anderton receives a report that he will commit a murder of an army general he does not know, Leopold Kaplan. Anderton confronts Kaplan, who harbors doubts about Precrime, and goes on the run with Kaplan’s help. Anderton is chased by Precrime agents and tries to escape with Lisa, also an agent.
Anderton knows two precogs confirm a precrime before it is pursued, but there is often a dissenting minority report from the third precog. However, the prediction of Anderton’s murder is supposed to change when Anderton discovers the news, changing the significance of the minority report. Kaplan has manipulated events so that Precrime will fall to a restrengthened Army headed by Kaplan. Discovering this, Anderton decides to actually murder Kaplan, thus saving Precrime; with Lisa, he accepts his punishment and goes into exile.
The story’s premise is based on paradoxes raised by predicting the future: If one knows what will happen, can one change the outcome? If so, what does that say about the ability to predict the future in the first place? Precrime satirizes how law enforcement can overreach its mandate; in the modern world, racial profiling could be considered a kind of precrime. Anderton commits his predicted murder to reinforce the validity of his flawed system but in doing so, proves its correctness.