October 1, 2013
Predictive Policing: Authorities Prevent Crime Using Algorithms
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Enid Burns for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
It may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but authorities are starting to adopt computer programs running algorithms to establish crime maps, and even determine where crimes could happen, before they happen. PredPol, a computer program developed to predict crime in real time, is currently deployed across parts of metropolitan London, and has reduced crime rates.
The tool aims to create crime heat maps and predict when and where crime will happen using algorithms so that law enforcement can increase its presence at the right moment to apprehend criminals, or hopefully even prevent crime from happening altogether.
The technology has been compared to systems used in movies set in the future such as Minority Report, where agents use a computer system to identify crime and stop would-be perpetrators in their tracks.
Communities throughout England that have used PredPol or similar systems have experienced a drop in crime rates, according to Mail Online.
Medway, Kent (a unitary authority in Southeast England) experienced a six-percent drop in street violence over a four-month trial period over this past winter. Manchester saw burglary rates fall nine percent between May 2010 and May 2011 - though that may not have been due to this type of preventative technology. Comparatively, the nearby community of Trafford, which used predictive policing, experienced a 26-percent decrease in burglaries.
Around England, the Metropolitan Police is also using such technology. Scotland Yard is working with the University College London to advance the system currently being used, Mail Online reports. Professor Shane Johnson of UCL's department for crime science is leading further research. One thing the professor notes is that burglars use tactics that closely match the behavior of wild animals searching for food: they return to the same scene where they've had some success in hopes of repeating the score.
"The 'predictive area' often covers a specific set of streets and so allows police to attend with near enough pin point accuracy," noted Johnson.
According to Mail Online, Commander Simon Letchford, who is in charge of the future crime drive, was quoted by the Sunday Times as saying, "Predictive policing places officers in the right place at the right time using the most up-to-date information. We produce daily maps based on the most recent crime information."
Information comes in the form of crime maps, which authorities say offer a seven times better chance to catch criminals in local areas where they are being used. The predictive system is on constant watch keeping up with statistics to update areas where crime is likely to happen.
The most important element of this system is the fact that crime hotspots change continuously, noted Johnson. He added that some places experience higher risks of crime than others, but even the riskiest areas do not have crime all the time. On the other hand, areas that are usually low-risk for crime have seen some activity.
PredPol and similar initiatives help give crime fighters the tools to stay one step ahead of criminals.