Police Departments Use Big Data To Predict Where Crime Will Hit Next

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Police departments in nearly five dozen cities are using a new program that uses historical crime data to predict where the next crime will likely take place.

Forbes reported how thousands of police officers in 60 cities across the country are using predictive maps from PredPol to help them decide which areas they should patrol during their shifts.

PredPol takes data from past crimes — type of crime, place and time the crime took place — and condenses them into small red boxes on a map that span half a city block to indicate high-risk areas. For anywhere from $10,000 to $150,000 a year, police departments can get access to troves of crime data in their area through PredPol and potentially reduce crime rates.

Los Angeles and Atlanta’s police departments are already on board. The LAPD used to Crime in LA’s Foothill went down 20 percent from 2013 to 2014 using the program, and Atlanta saw a near 10 percent drop in crime for two precincts, according to PredPol. Moreover, Santa Cruz, California’s police department witnessed a combined 38 percent drop in robberies and burglaries, Forbes reported.

Police increasingly rely on social media and data collection to help them respond more efficiently to crime. The NYPD reignited its social media monitoring program to help stop lone wolf terrorists in response to a hatchet attack on police last year. During New York protests in response to the grand jury’s verdict for Eric Garner’s death, the NYPD revved up online surveillance with facial recognition software that linked protesters faces to their social media accounts.

Beyond social media, police departments have been using other technology such as smartphone tracking and drones to help deter crime. But the uptick in police using technology and online data to fight crime has raised concerns of abuse.

Police have a history of using new technology and data in a way that may perpetuate abuse and discriminatory practices such as profiling. That’s been a concern with Chicago’s crime predicting and heat maps that uses an index of the about 400 people who are supposedly most likely to commit or be involved in a violent crime. Critics worry that list balloons to include associates, neighbors and classmates so that people are then presumed to be up to no good because of where they live and who they may know.