Predictive Policing: Some Crime Random, A Lot Isn't


Several police deprtments are experimenting with the “predictive policing” concept, says They include Los Angeles, which has won a $3 million federal grant pending congressional approval of the federal budget, Santa Cruz, Ca., which recruited a Santa Clara University professor to help rejigger patrol patterns, and Chicago, which has a new criminal forecasting unit to predict crime before it happens.

“This is not about predicting the behavior of a specific individual,” says Jeffrey Brantingham, a UCLA anthropology professor on the team partnering with Los Angeles police. Rather, predictive policing deals with crime in the aggregate. “It's about predicting the risk of certain types of crimes in time and space,” he says. Predictive policing is based on the idea that some crime is random—but a lot isn't. That doesn't mean police can prevent all crime—only the more predictable kinds, like burglary or auto theft. Isn't a lot of this intuitive? If a crime occurs on a particular block, can't officers just keep a closer eye on that area? Sure, says Brantingham, but intuition can take police only so far. In a city as large and complex as Los Angeles, it's hard to perform predictive policing by gut alone.


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