Los Angeles Police Department officials have begun to imagine what a department built around predictive tools would look like, says the Los Angeles Times. Automated crime forecasts tailored to each of the 21 area stations would be streamed several times a day for commanders to make decisions about where to deploy officers. Predictive policing is rooted in the notion that it is possible, through sophisticated computer analysis of data on previous crimes, to predict where and when crimes will occur.
At universities and technology companies, scientists are working to develop computer programs that, in the most optimistic scenarios, could enable police to anticipate, and possibly prevent, many types of crime. Some of the most ambitious work is being done at UCLA, where researchers are studying the ways criminals behave in urban settings. One is trying to forecast the time and place of crimes using the same formulas that seismologists use to predict the distribution of aftershocks from an earthquake. Another builds computer simulations of criminals roving through neighborhoods to understand why they tend to cluster in certain areas and how they disperse when police go looking for them. “The naysayers want you to believe that humans are too complex and too random – that this sort of math can’t be done,” said Jeff Brantingham, a UCLA anthropologist. “But humans are not nearly as random as we think. In a sense, crime is just a physical process, and if you can explain how offenders move and how they mix with their victims, you can understand an incredible amount.”