Jun 1 2013

Predictive Policing Useful in Small Cities

As Police Departments Shrink, New Software Seems to Aid Crime Prevention

Tight budgets have forced many California cities to reduce the size of Police Departments.  At the same time crime rates are rising. To offset the loss of police officers some cities are turning to Predictive Policing (PredPol), a predictive analytics technology tool developed in California and named one of the “Best Inventions” of 2011 by Time magazine. Using the crime date, time and address data already recorded by police departments the software analyzes it and forecasts the time and location for the same crime in the future.

Small and medium cities using PredPol —  including Alhambra, Campbell, Los Gatos, Morgan Hill, Salinas and Santa Cruz—are reporting reduced burglaries. The Santa Cruz police personnel decreased by 20% in 2011 while crime increased by 30%.  After the first year using PredPol printouts of predicted hotspots at the start of each shift, Santa Cruz Police reported a 19% reduction in burglaries and added predictions of bike thefts, battery, assault and prowling in late 2012.

Putting visible police patrols in the locales at times when burglaries are most likely is thought to be the reason burglaries are prevented.  Predictive Policing is applied to the most frequent crimes in each community and is dependent on the specific crime patterns of each city.  The goal is to make the best use of available police officers.  According to Co.Exist Fast Company, “Predictive Policing is charging cities based on population, with costs ranging from $25,000 to $250,000 per year for the largest cities.”

The Alhambra Police Department explains their decision:

“Developed over a period of six years by cops, mathematicians, criminologists and anthropologists, PredPol is a predictive policing program that looks at burglaries and car thefts and other crimes in a similar manner as predicting aftershocks from an earthquake.  Agencies that have deployed the PredPol tool have seen marked reductions in targeted crimes.  PredPol gives medium sized cities like Alhambra access to complex, large analytic capabilities normally only available to big cities or massive corporations.  The inputs are straightforward: previous crime reports, which include the time and location of a crime.  The software is informed by sociological studies of criminal behavior, which include the insight that burglars often ply the same area.”

Los Angeles experimented with Predictive Policing in just one precinct—Foothill—for six months.  At the end of the trial, the Police Department reported that burglaries in the Foothill precinct decreased 36 percent while crime rose across Los Angeles over the same period. 

Read “Don’t Just Map Crime, Predict it”

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