The Los Angeles Police Department is the largest agency to embrace an experiment known as “predictive policing,” which crunches data to determine where to send officers to thwart would-be thieves and burglars. Time Magazine called it one of the best inventions of 2011.
Jeff Brantingham, an anthropology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the data also is derived from criminal behaviors – repeat victimization and the notion that criminals tend not to stray too far from areas they know best.
Early successes could serve as a model for other cash-strapped law enforcement agencies, but some legal observers are concerned it could lead to unlawful stops and searches that violate Fourth Amendment protections.
In the San Fernando Valley, where the program was launched late last year, officers are seeing double-digit drops in burglaries and other property crimes. The program has turned enough in-house skeptics into believers that there are plans to roll it out citywide by next summer.
Crime mapping has long been a tool used to determine where the bad guys lurk. The idea has evolved from colored pins placed on a map to identifying “hot spots” via a computer database based on past crimes and possible patterns.
Over the past decade, many large police departments, including Los Angeles and New York City, have used CompStat, a system that tracks crime figures and enables police to send extra officers to trouble spots.
The new program used by LAPD and police in the Northern California city of Santa Cruz is more timely and precise, proponents said. Built on the same model for predicting aftershocks following an earthquake, the software promises to show officers what might be coming based on simple, constantly calibrated data – location, time and type of crime.
The software generates prediction boxes – as small as 500 square feet – on a patrol map. When officers have spare time, they are told to “go in the box.”
The goal is not to boost the number of arrests, a common police benchmark to reflect crime reduction. Officers want to either intercept a crime in progress or deter would-be criminals.
So far, the program has been implemented in five LAPD divisions that cover 130 square miles and roughly 1.3 million people. In the valley’s Foothill Division, where more than half of the crimes committed are property-related, about 170 patrol officers are spending a total of about 70 hours a week working in the boxes.
Brantingham’s company has been contacted by about 200 police departments across the globe interested in the software. He wouldn’t disclose the costs of the program because it varies on a city’s population and size. LAPD isn’t incurring any costs because it has shared data and other information with Brantingham’s company for research purposes.
Brantingham and others believe predictive policing is the wave of the future and won’t result in the elimination of jobs.