Predictive Policing

Like any field, the science of criminal investigation is changing because of technology.  One area that has grown dramatically is predictive policing. Ten years ago, UCLA Anthropology Professor Jeff Brantingham teamed up with a number of mathematicians to study and crunch crime-related data.

For six of those years they worked with the LAPD which now uses predictive policing in 19 of its 21 divisions.

Predicting crime is the focus of the FOX TV show Minority Report. The series is the stuff of science fiction. It was also a pretty popular Tom Cruise movie once. But, in some ways, predictive policing has become science fact.

At Newton Division, LAPD Captain Jorge Rodriguez says, “We're taking the information out there and leveraging it to predict and get in front of crimes. To try to stop them from happening."

Both Rodriguez and Brantingham believe that predictive policing is a valuable tool and, as the professor puts it,  “I think you have one trend in the future of policing” and that’s “to deliver ever more data faster in ever-more combinations."

At roll call each day Rodriguez says officers are given what’s called “pred-pol” maps. These maps show boxes about a half-a-block long where crime may occur.  It’s all based on the algorithm created by the team from UCLA. These are “risky areas” where crime may occur within a 10-hour period.

It doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, more officers are placed in the hotbox areas and the bad guys are scared off. 

But, this is very much a work in progress. And, to Brantingham, yesterday's crimes are not necessarily a guide to where tomorrow's might be. And, it’s not clear if crunching numbers can ever lead to who actually commits crimes.

The question hanging over all of this is the same one in Minority Report, the ethical question of arresting someone before a crime has even been committed.

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