Other officers go into these boxes at night and pull their squad car into a discreet location to watch who is out at 2 a.m. “They might notice a guy riding a bike around without a light on, and stop him for not having a light on his bike. They might find he has burglary tools on him, a stolen ID from a burglary that just occurred, and arrest might be made. There are different ways to approach this,” Malinowski says.
He believes the tool prevents crime by randomizing patrol. “Officers are told to go into the identified hot spots when they can, which automatically randomizes patrols in those areas,” he says. “The randomization deters crime because there is no longer any pattern to police patrols. Officers might pass through at 11:05 p.m. or 2 a.m.”
Intuition at your fingertips
But couldn’t a crime analyst or a seasoned police officer accomplish much the same thing?
Technically they could.
“This is no different—but more far more complex—than simply taking a good officer’s intuition and building upon it,” Friend admits. “An officer who has been around 25 years knows where crime is going to occur. When you’ve seen it enough, you know that certain times of year, certain times of day, certain events, and so on, will play into crime patterns.”
But PredPol puts this information into the hands of all police officers from the seasoned veteran to the rookie cop. “It’s like you’re giving brand-new officers all of that history and intuition,” he says.
It also expands the information a seasoned officer has at his disposal. A veteran officer might be able to list three, five or even 10 hot spots, but will struggle to come up with a list of 15, Friend points out.
“PredPol can do a perfect ranking of hot spots one to 20, and turn that information over to police to provide an optimal allocation of resources,” Brantingham says.
Still not convinced?
When pitted against an LAPD crime analyst over a six-month pilot, Brantingham says they found PredPol doubles the accuracy and predicts crime twice as accurately as the crime map. “It’s not because the crime analyst isn’t capable, it’s that the algorithms can pick up those intermediate hot spots.”
“What that says to me as a manager is that I can put my analyst on something else,” Malinowski says. “I don’t need him assigning missions.” That analyst could be used to build intelligence on a drug network or some other larger problem plaguing the city.
The success of the programs in Santa Cruz and Los Angeles has generated the interest of approximately 200 police departments across the nation, says Brantingham. He adds he believes predictive policing is the wave of the future and is not intended to eliminate jobs.
“It is not designed to take the officer out of the equation. There is no replacement for a police officer’s knowledge and skills,” he says. “It’s about putting them in the right place at the right time to prevent crime.”
Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, WI, who served as the editorial director of the Cygnus Law Enforcement Group for 12 years.