California Police Department Uses Computer Program for Predictive Policing

With the help of an advanced computer program, police in Santa Cruz, Calif., are trying to predict where crimes will occur and deploy officers to those hot spots.

The idea behind the initiative is fairly simple.

The computer program, developed by two mathematicians, an anthropologist and criminologist, uses past crime data to predict locations and times that are at high risk of a certain crime. Currently, the system is only used for property crimes.

New data is fed into the system daily, and the projections are automatically changed based on the information.

During roll call each day, officers are given the top 10 hot spots for crime predicted by the program. While not responding to specific calls, officers are tasked to check those areas. Previously, officers checked locations where they believed crime might occur.

One of the main drivers behind the predicative policing idea shouldn't come as a big surprise -- budget cuts.

"We're facing a situation where we have 30 percent more calls for service but 20 percent less staff than in the year 2000, and that is going to continue to be our reality," said Zach Friend with the Santa Cruz police department. "So we have to deploy our resources in a more effective way, and we thought this model would help."

Anecdotally, the program seems to be working. Burglaries in Santa Cruz were down 27 percent in July compared with July 2010.

And the program will get a test in a much tougher environment soon. Los Angeles hopes to start using the program sometime this year and possibly expand its usage beyond property crime and in to violent crimes.

What do you think about predictive policing? Is it the wave of the future, or is there no substitute for a officer on the beat?

Posted by Brent Dirks on Aug 22, 2011

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