A day without serious crime? Cities reap real benefits from predictive policing

Thu, 2015-01-15 12:00 -- Kevin Ebi

Can you imagine a day without serious crime? Or a double-digit decline in crime rates without a double-digit increase in the size of your police force?

Policing success stories like these are happening in cities from New York to Los Angeles thanks to predictive policing. Using data analysis technology from Council Lead Partner Microsoft, they are able to position officers where they will make the biggest difference.

This helps make police proactive, rather than reactive. Instead of chasing criminals, officers are increasingly able to stop them before they commit crimes.

Microsoft’s Domain Awareness System gets most of the attention for its work in preventing crimes. Police departments can use it to analyze trends and other data so that they know where crimes are most likely to occur and assign officers accordingly.

But it also goes beyond that. It’s impossible to prevent every crime, so the system also helps officers be more effective when they’re responding to calls. While officers are on the way, they can receive information about other incidents in the area, the crime history there, and the criminal record of any suspects. Instant access to this knowledge helps officers tailor their response to be more effective.

Built by police officers
While the analytics were built by Microsoft, New York City police officers guided the development. Police officers described their biggest pain points and brainstormed ways that data analysis could help address them. It was built to solve real-life problems.

For example, if a suspicious package is left, police can immediately review camera footage to determine who left it. If they’re looking for a suspect and they know what car he drives, they can see where the car has been in recent days and months. Investigators can map crime history both by location and time to reveal trends. And if a radiation alarm goes off, the system can evaluate other data sources to determine if it’s actually dangerous, or if it’s a harmless type that’s naturally occurring or used in medical treatments.

Other cities using the system benefit from New York’s work and they can provide their own suggestions. Advances are shared by everyone; all participating cities are made safer.

A day without serious crime
New York, which has been working for decades to reduce crime, continued to make dramatic progress after deploying the Domain Awareness System in 2012. There were 35% fewer murders last year than in 2011. Car thefts are down 17%. Robberies are down 16%.

The Foothill area of Los Angeles actually went an entire day without serious crime last year, possibly the first time that has ever happened in the 50 years the Los Angeles Police Department has been responsible for that area.

That was no small accomplishment. The area covers 50 square miles and is home to 250,000 people. On an annual basis, the amount of serious crime was cut by nearly a quarter.

Doesn’t break the budget
Microsoft is quick to point out that these benefits are available to cities of any size at a very modest investment. The cities already have much of what they need.

Equipment, like cameras, is likely already in place. And they already collect crime data. It’s the analytics that truly make all that useful, and that’s an incremental investment.

Adding more police officers is expensive and can be almost impossible given the budget struggles most cities face today. As a number of cities have already found, a relatively small investment can make an existing police force more effective, making communities safer.

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Kevin Ebi is a staff writer and social media coordinator for the Council. Follow  @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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