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Seeing Into the Future and Predicting Crime

In what might have been deemed science fiction only a few years ago, police in one Los Angeles precinct are using computer models to predict and stop crime before it occurs - and it's working.

For years, law enforcement has been tracking crime rates in different areas of the city, and as the Associated Press reports, this was often visually displayed by placing colored tacks. The theory being that through past crimes, patterns can be detected to help predict where future crime will occur.

"Predictive policing" is the new model, which uses "constantly calibrated data," including criminal behavior information, to predict where and when a particular type of crime will be committed. If this sounds somewhat familiar, it is because this method uses the same technology that predicts earthquake aftershocks.

How it Works

The model works by establishing boxes or areas where it believes crime will occur; the AP notes that the model can predict crime in areas as small as 500 square feet. Once the model predicts where the crime will occur, officers can then patrol in those specific areas.

The goal of this new tool is to prevent crime, not arrest those accused of committing it. Since implementing the new predictive policing, the San Fernando precinct of the LAPD has experienced double-digit drops in certain types of crimes, including burglary, while other areas of the city reported an increase in crime, reports the AP.

As Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, assistant law professor at the University of the District of Columbia, told the AP, one of the main concerns of predictive policing is the violation of people's Fourth Amendment rights. A violation can occur if police stop "suspicious" people near the areas the crime model predicts events will happen. The risk of the new model is that police officers might easily use stereotypes to determine who they stop and question without reasonable suspicion.

Source: Associated Press, "Sci-fi policing: predicting crime before it occurs," Greg Risling, July 1, 2012.

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