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The LAPD Is Predicting Crimes Before They Happen



With the use of computer analytic technology, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is predicting crimes before they happen. The Real-Time Analysis and Critical Response Division in downtown LA is the hub for this activity. The department has rows of crime analysts and technologists who observe news broadcasts, security camera footage, and maps of the most recent crimes in the city. By recording and mapping the data from previous crimes, an algorithm takes that data and estimates the likelihood of a crime occurring in that area again, and when it is most likely to happen.

The algorithm used by the LAPD utilizes what is known as predictive policing. By using years, sometimes decades, of crime data, the algorithm identifies areas with high probabilities of certain crimes. The computer then places a little red box on the navigation systems of patrol cars. Captain John Romero stated that criminals tend to be very territorial, so once they do crime in an area without being caught, they will very likely return there again with the same intention.

The LAPD captain compared the process to a fisherman using a fish tracker to find out where fish will be. Romero stated that the device will help more inexperienced officers know which areas are dangerous and prone to criminal activity. When patrol cars are not answering a radio call, they are paroling these areas, and very often, illegal activity occurs there during their patrol.

Captain Sean Malinowski of the LAPD is the head of the analytical division that predicts crimes before they happen. Malinowski, for years, has been working with a team of researches from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Malinowski suggests that police officers spend more time around these red box areas and pay much more attention to their surroundings. Their hope is that the officers’ presence will end the crime in that area. Once that happens, the computer algorithm will adjust and remove the red box from the LAPD maps.

During the first week of the application of this technology, crime in these areas dropped an average of 50 percent. In Santa Cruz, California, the police department there has been using the UCLA technology for almost a year and have had very successful results. UCLA anthropologist, Jeff Brantingham, stated that he is not surprised by the good results because human behavior follows very predictable patterns.

Brantingham compared the LAPD predicting crimes before they happen to ancient hunters and gatherers who searched for gazelle to kill. The anthropologist said that if your house is broken into once, the chance of it being broken into again goes up, as does the chance that your neighbor’s home will be hit. He attributes this to the criminal knowing they can have success in that area. He compared the map of red boxes as a map of an earthquake’s aftershocks.

Observers are worried that the new LAPD technology will lead to the department conducting unlawful searches of innocent people. The Los Angeles police force did say that the technology will never be as effective as good, experienced policing practices.

By Andres Loubriel

Pacific Standard