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February 27, 2013 at 12:04 PM

Seattle police turn to computer software to predict, fight crime

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Chief John Diaz announced today that police have begun using new “predictive policing” software in the city’s East and Southwest precincts in an effort to reduce crime through analysis of data on crime and location.

“This technology will allow us to be proactive rather than reactive in responding to crime,” said McGinn during a news conference. “This investment, along with our existing hot spot policing work, will help us to fulfill the commitments we made in the ’20/20′ plan to use data in deploying our officers to make our streets safer.”

According to a Los Angeles Times article on predictive policing employed by the LAPD, predictive policing is rooted in the notion that it is possible, through sophisticated computer analysis of information about previous crimes, to predict where and when crimes will occur. Based on models for predicting aftershocks from earthquakes, predictive policing forecasts the locations where crime is likely to occur.

It works by entering all crime and location data dating back to 2008 into a complex algorithm that generates a prediction about where crimes are likely to take place on a certain day and time. Officers are provided with these forecasts before beginning their shifts, and are assigned to use their “proactive time” between 911 calls to patrol those areas, according to Seattle police.

“The predictive policing software is estimated to be twice as effective as a human data analyst working from the same information” said Diaz. “It’s all part of our effort to build an agile, flexible and innovative Police Department that provides the best service possible to the public.”

Predictive policing is currently analyzing only property crimes in Seattle’s East and Southwest precincts, but the Police Department plans to expand it every precinct in April, with analysis of other types of crime soon to follow.

The Police Chief, the magazine for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, called predictive policing “the next era in policing.” Time magazine called the Santa Cruz, Calif. Police Department’s predictive policing program one of the 50 best inventions of 2011 and it was highlighted in this New York Times story.

However, Loyola Law School professor Stan Goldman told National Public Radio in 2011 he was worried authorities could use the data to stop and search innocent people who happen to be in 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?”


Comments | More in The Blotter | Topics: Mike McGinn, Seattle Police


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