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Police are using software to predict where crime will happen

Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
February 11, 2015
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Police are unlikely to ever have a Minority Report-like ability to get inside would-be criminals' heads, but they may already have the next-best thing. Developers like PredPol are offering "predictive policing" software that tells cops where and when crimes are likely to happen based on the location, the nature of the crime and the time of day. The software knows that there's a good chance that a burglary or gang slaying will lead to similar activity in a given area, or that you'll see drunken fights outside of a dive bar in the early morning. Theoretically, police just have to patrol these areas more often to stop crime before it starts.

There are some signs that the strategy may be working; as Forbes notes, early results in cities like Atlanta, Los Angeles and Santa Cruz saw both reduced crime rates and better prediction compared to conventional analysts. However, the jury's still out. Without more extensive studies, it's hard to know whether the drops are directly related to predictive software or can be chalked up to other factors, such as crooks moving to other areas. Also, the tools could tempt police departments into leaning too much on code instead of understanding neighborhoods and tackling deep-seated problems. If the software is both proven effective and used wisely, though, it could cut back on unnecessary tragedies and familiarize rookie cops with known trouble spots.

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