Technology is everywhere these days—including in California police departments, where the ‘big data' trend has arrived in the form of software that attempts to anticipate crime before it happens.
The predictive policing software, called PredPol, is being used on a trial basis in the LAPD's Foothill Division station. In an article on the software, The California Report describes maps generated by PredPol with bright red squares on them, reportedly indicating an area with a high probability of crime.
The software was developed through a project that started at UCLA seven years ago. It processes crime data through an algorithm that locates potential high crime areas, where police can then spend extra time to prevent crime.
Speaking to The California Report, mathematician George Mohler, who worked on the PredPol development project, compared the model to those predicting earthquake aftershocks. Mohler said that the same type of mathematical formula is used by the software to “predict the ‘after-crimes' of an initial incident.”
PredPol's algorithms are intended to predict property crimes such as car break-ins, stolen vehicles, and burglaries. While the software predicts that crimes are likely to happen, it does not attempt to calculate who will commit the crimes, Mohler points out.
The LAPD says that using the predictive policing software has helped to reduce crime in the Foothill Division, an area with uncomfortable notoriety associated with the Rodney King incident in 1991. The officers who were recorded beating King worked out of the Foothill Division.
In addition to Los Angeles, PredPol is currently being used by other police departments in the state of California, including Alhambra, Richmond, and Santa Cruz. The software is also used in Seattle, Washington, and in Kent, England.
PredPol faces potential issues such as the possible collection of bad data, and general ineffectiveness. In addition, it is not clear whether police spotting a person in a predictive area can generate the reasonable suspicion required by the Fourth Amendment.