March 23, 2015 By Wallin & Klarich

PredPol PolicePolice departments in California are utilizing new cloud-based software that helps law enforcement agencies predict where criminal activity will occur. The software analyzes historical crime data then creates printable maps marked-up with red boxes indicating 10 to 20 locations where crimes are most likely to happen during a police officer’s shift. The software identifies these 500-by-500-feet hotspots by analyzing the time, place, and type of crimes that have occurred in the past.1

While the software is relatively new, this type of “predictive policing” is gaining traction, and departments are paying from $10,000 to $150,000 annually for the chance to use the new technology. The system, called “Predpol,” is currently being used by about 60 police departments in major cities across the country, including in Los Angeles. PredPol’s use is expected to jump through 2015.2

How PredPol Works

PredPol runs historical data points, (place, time, and type of crime) through a criminal behavior pattern algorithm that helps law enforcement officials give officers a customized map specific to their shift and duty area. During roll call at the beginning of each shift, police officers are given the map and told to focus on those areas between calls. PredPol officials say officers who patrol the hotspots for up to 15 percent of their daily shift will prevent more crime than if they solely relied upon their instinct and knowledge.

In fact, PredPol reports that the departments using the software are seeing a significant decrease in crimes. A recent study cited by the software company showed PredPol has accurately predicted double the number of crimes than LAPD crime analysts. Early reports indicate impressive statistics:

  • In Santa Cruz, robberies decreased by 27 percent and burglaries dropped by 11 percent
  • LAPD Foothill Division reported a 20 percent decrease in crime rates
  • Alhambra saw a 20 percent decrease in vehicle thefts and a 32 percent decrease in burglaries

PredPol is quick to point out that the software is not to be used to replace an officer’s judgment and intuition. While the effectiveness of the software has yet to be proven, about 70 percent of the 200 surveyed police departments said they were planning to acquire predictive policing software within the next five years.

The Concern Over Predictive Policing

Police ComputerSome people are not very comfortable with this form of technology. They are concerned that it could be used to target individuals or groups based on criminal intent, even if it’s not there. The software maker says the technology focuses on crime time, place, and type patterns. Modesto Police Captain Rick Armendariz said it allows the department to place officers strategically. Still, others are concerned with how the data provided to police will be applied.

Peter Scharf, a criminologist at Louisiana State, said he is concerned that young officers may interpret a hotspot as more dangerous than it actually is and that would influence a police officer’s behaviors and actions on the street. Others would prefer that technology be used to fix the underlying issues in high crime areas, and some are worried about the use of Big Data by police officials and city governments without having a thorough understanding of how the whole thing works.3

How Do You Feel about Predictive Policing?

Wallin & Klarich would like to know how you feel about the growing implementation of predictive policing technologies by law enforcement agencies. Do you believe that more police departments should use PredPol software to help focus their efforts in areas of high crime, or do you believe that the software could have an influence on how officer’s respond to situations in those areas? Leave your comments below.

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