Richmond, Va., is using a sophisticated crime modeling system that may be able to predict crime patterns, says Governing magazine. Paydays are in the equation, because robberies surge around check-cashing businesses. The weather is programmed in, too, so cops can see if crime spikes on hot days or plummets in the rain. Super Bowl Sunday is plugged in, because that usually is the slowest crime day of the year. Five years’ worth of historical crime data sits in the system, where it mixes with real-time data on crime as it happens. By analyzing patterns, commanders believe they can predict where crime will happen, and mobilize patrol officers to anticipate hotspots.
Houston, Las Vegas, Tallahassee and Miami, among others, also are counting on data-crunching software to move them beyond simply responding to crimes. The science is advanced enough to help police departments prevent crime by stationing cops where it is most likely to occur. “It’s not about catching him in the act,” says Stephen Hollifield, Richmond police information services manager. “It’s about deterring.” Does crime prediction work? That’s hard to prove, if only because it’s impossible to tally offenses that never happened. Still, Rodney Monroe, the police chief who put the system in place a few years ago, is a believer. In 2004, Richmond was tarred as the nation’s fifth-most dangerous city. By 2006, its ranking had dropped to number 38. In Houston, the focus is on helping officers en route to a crime scene know what they might encounter. If a disturbance is linked to a mentally ill person, officers can quickly sift through 15 years’ worth of data and check whether the person has a history of not taking medications or of being confrontational or violent with police.