Crime-fighting technologies continue to get more sophisticated and precise, says Governing magazine. Police departments use shot spotters to glean information about where guns were fired. A database in the works in New York City will track guns used in crimes. Computers, cameras, and geographic information systems are common in cop cars. Surveillance cameras watch the streets, saving manpower until it’s needed. Lately, several cities have been using high-level data analysis to predict where crimes will occur. The technology that Richmond, Va., uses to analyze and predict where future ones may happen next is providing a crime-fighting boost to police. Officers believe it has contributed to a stunning drop in crime in a city that had developed a reputation as one of the country’s most dangerous. In 2007, homicides dropped from 81 to 55.
Officers amass the usual information from emergency calls and police reports but also compile information about paydays, weather, demographics, sporting events, and traffic. Then they look for patterns. For instance, they could see that robbers were hitting hard in Hispanic neighborhoods on payday. Police work always has been about connecting the dots. The connections were hard to see when the dots were on paper, but Richmond now has them on a digital map. Officers plug in addresses where crimes have occurred and plot points electronically, “geo-coding” to allow visual information to produce “aha” moments where patterns emerge. Because these predictive analytics allow Richmond police to anticipate when and where certain types of crimes occur, commanders move officers around. Since using the technology, the city has seen major crime drop around 20 percent a year.