Predictive analytic software PredPol anticipates future crime based upon past activity.
The program was adapted from similar software meant to predict earthquake aftershocks.
Many police stations still use obsolete technology due to small budgets and aversion to change.
Even so, police depend heavily upon social media to solve crimes.
For something that predicts the future, the software is deceptively simple looking.
A map of a city is marked up with small red squares, each indicating a 500-by-500-foot zone where crimes are likely to take place next. A heat-map mode shows even more precisely where cars may be stolen, houses robbed, people mugged.
The program is called PredPol, and it calculates its forecasts based on times and locations of previous crimes, combined with sociological information about criminal behavior and patterns. The technology has been beta tested in the Santa Cruz, California police department for the past year, and in an L.A. police precinct for the past six months, with promising results.
Predictive-analytics software is the latest piece of policing technology working its way into law-enforcement stations around the country, although it’s going up against tight budgets, bureaucracy and a culture still clinging to its analog ways.
“We had to try something because we were not being offered more cops,” said Zach Friend, a crime analyst with the Santa Cruz Police Department. Last year, Friend contacted researchers working on the algorithm – originally used for predicting earthquake aftershocks – after reading an article in the LA Times.
At the time, his city had experienced a 30% increase in crime and a 20% decrease in police staff. He knew they had to try something.