On this week’s TechKnow, Crystal Dilworth treks to Santa Cruz, Calif., and Seattle to investigate how their police departments are utilizing predictive policing software to anticipate crimes before they are committed.
The Santa Cruz Police Department began using the Predictive Policing (or PredPol) system as a way to pinpoint hot spots for automotive thefts, but soon realized that it could be useful in many other capacities.
"We found that the model was just incredibly accurate at predicting the times and locations where these crimes were likely to occur," says Deputy Chief Steve Clark. "At that point, we realized we've got something here."
The Predictive Policing software is location-based, meaning that it does not profile criminals, but instead crunches statistics from past reported crimes to find areas where crimes are most likely to happen.
"All the computer takes into effect are actual incidents that have occurred and have been reported," Clark explains. "It really doesn't know anything about the demographics of individuals that live in that area, what the economic statuses of these individuals are, or anything about the person. It's all area-specific."
PredPol creates live maps in the police station that display past crimes as well as predicted hotspots, so officers know which areas to patrol more closely during their shifts. The software doesn't account for a "gut instinct" when it comes to police work, but it can be a helpful tool to point cops in the right direction.
"We're not telling you how to do police work," Clark reiterates. "We're just telling you where the best locations are for you to be at any given time of the day."
So far, PredPol has been considered a success. In its first year using the software, the Santa Cruz Police Department saw assaults drop by 9 percent, burglaries down 11 percent, and robberies down 27 percent. Meanwhile, auto theft recoveries rose by 22 percent and arrests were up 56 percent.
The Seattle Police Department has been incorporating PredPol into their patrols over the past three months with much of the same result.
"This is sort of a paradigm shift in how officers have done policing," says Seattle Police Department Lt. Bryan Grenon. "Before, it was random patrol, go find something. So you're successful if you write that ticket, if you make an arrest. But, in this, if you're out there and your presence alone dissuades a criminal from committing a crime, you're successful."
As more police departments start to embrace the technology, many are hopeful that it will help ensure not just better policing, but also better police.
"It's amazing what you'll see as you drive through a neighborhood," Clark says. "The things that pop out to you, the anomalies that start to draw your attention."
After Clark and his team apprehend a suspect in one of PredPol's "hotspots," Clark reiterates how predictive policing adds an extra layer to crime-fighting efforts.
"That was the marriage of science as well as intuition, instinct, and that good old 'gut feeling' that we talked about," he says. "That's exactly what we saw play out right here."
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