Predictive Policing Advances in L.A., Skeptic Asks “At What Cost”?


Capt. Sean Malinowski of the Los Angeles Police Department wants his force to be the best in predicting where criminals will strike. NPR reports that Malinowski works with a team of researchers from UCLA. This month, they are rolling out a new computer program. Using years of crime statistics, the computer churns out maps with small highlighted areas where it predicts a crime will occur. UCLA anthropologist Jeff Brantingham says human behavior, especially when in search of resources, follows very predictable patterns. He says crime, especially property crime, happens in predictable waves. “If your house is broken into, then the chance that it is going to be broken into again goes way up, and the chance that your neighbor’s house is going to be broken into goes way up,” he said. That’s because crooks now know the area and go back to where they had success.

Brantingham says these crime waves show up in patterns similar to the aftershocks of an earthquake. While the science is impressive, Loyola Law School Prof. Stan Goldman worries how the data will be used. Despite police assurances, he says, authorities could use it as reasonable doubt to stop and search innocent suspects who happen to be in the highlighted neighborhoods. “It may very well end up reducing crime to a certain degree,” he said. “The question is at what cost, at what price?”

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