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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

New Police Software Can Predict Where Crimes Will Likely Occur in Seattle

Posted by on Wed, Feb 27, 2013 at 1:16 PM

Any thoughts on thoughtcrime?
  • The Stranger
  • "Any thoughts on thoughtcrime?"
On Sunday night, a select group of Seattle police officers working out the city's East and SW Precincts began their beats with an innovative new tool—one that forecasts where crimes are likely to occur based on the time, date, and type of crime committed within the city in the past five years.

The technology, called Predictive Policing software, was developed in Los Angeles and uses geographical data and crime statistics dating back to 2008 to create a complex algorithm that pinpoints likely crime hot spots on any given day and time, right down to 500-feet-by-500-feet, or a little larger than one square city block. Seattle Police Chief John Diaz and others explained that the hot spots are places that are generally well-known to officers as high crime areas already, but the software allows officers to devote roughly 30 percent of their day—the estimated amount of time that they're not responding to 911 calls—to actively patrol areas where criminal activity is most probable, given the time of day and history of related crimes in the area.

"The predictions are twice as effective as a human analyst using the same data," explained Mayor Mike McGinn at a press conference this morning. The LAPD was able to reduce property crime by 13 percent in a year using the software.

"It's very exciting," said Chief Diaz. "Neighborhoods are going to see this as an incredible tool."

For now, the East and SW Precinct are only piloting the software on property crimes, as those are the most common in our city. Eventually, the department hopes to have the technology up and running in every precinct and for every crime, especially to help "reduce gun crimes," explained Lt. Brian Grenon, who's helping with the Seattle pilot. The program will cost the city $73,000 for the software and a $45,000 annual subscription fee.

To be clear, we're still a few years away from arresting people for thoughtcrime. No information on past suspects is included in the algorithm—just the type of crime committed. When asked if the data forecast could be seen as another form of biased policing—by sending officers to patrol certain neighborhoods in South Seattle that have historically high crime, for instance—McGinn was insistent that the technology would, in fact, do the opposite. "This minimizes the influence that unconscious bias can have," he said, by relying on data and not on an officer's personal experience with known suspects in the area or their gut intuition.

McGinn acknowledged that "there are people with more power and influence in our community” that exert their influence to monopolize city resources. He added: “I hear from all communities that they want to be safe... this tool will help us get there."


Comments (16) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
cienna, ill post some classic joseph coors for you and tim later. ive got my hands full right now. you'll know where ill be ok.
Posted by tim koch on February 27, 2013 at 1:23 PM · Report this
sasha 2
But does the software include a Minority report?
Posted by sasha on February 27, 2013 at 1:33 PM · Report this
RebR 3
PK Dick is rolling over in his grave.
Posted by RebR on February 27, 2013 at 1:39 PM · Report this
Rotten666 4
Hey, for a fraction of that money I can do the same exact job. Lets see...crackheads loitering at the west side of the Rainier Ave crosswalk, open air drug market across the street for said crackheads, open air drug market on 37th ave s, squatters at "the Porch", gangbangers at the Rainier Beach Jack in the Box.

The same people, doing the same shit, at the same place, every fucking day for years. But the cops need a computer program to tell them that?
Posted by Rotten666 on February 27, 2013 at 1:49 PM · Report this
@4 Simpler than that: jack in the box plus or minus two blocks.
Posted by wxPDX on February 27, 2013 at 2:03 PM · Report this
@4 and 5- dead on.
Posted by Chris Jury on February 27, 2013 at 2:16 PM · Report this
treacle 7
But, with police patrolling predicted hot spots, actual crime will move elsewhere -- an adaptive response. How long will the predictive software take to recalibrate the new hot spots? Or will it simply drive crime to different areas where the cops aren't during their 30% time?
Posted by treacle on February 27, 2013 at 2:38 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 8

What happens when the crooks get an Android app that can tell them where all the cop cars are...

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on February 27, 2013 at 2:38 PM · Report this
How long until the software is accused of being racist?
Posted by Reader01 on February 27, 2013 at 2:55 PM · Report this
Is this the same crappy type of algorithm that Pandora and Netflix use to (wrongly) predict what I will like?
Posted by skeptic420 on February 27, 2013 at 2:58 PM · Report this
"But does the software include a Minority report?"

Sure, head to the Rainier Valley/Skyway.
Posted by Racist Software? on February 27, 2013 at 3:07 PM · Report this
Fnarf 12
In order to work properly, the software requires elderly Indian woodcarvers and Mexican immigrants with full bladders to wear four-foot diameter crosshair hats on their heads for the satellites to track.
Posted by Fnarf on February 27, 2013 at 3:41 PM · Report this
Why have we resorted to gadgets to do our policing? Oh, yeah, because our police officers don't know their communities well enough to do this on their own. Good spend of money, I much rather have software than more actual officers and better training.
Posted by SeattleD on February 27, 2013 at 3:54 PM · Report this
The word you want is precrime, not thoughtcrime.
Posted by TechBear on February 27, 2013 at 4:09 PM · Report this
GeneStoner 15
Unfortunately, technology is driving policing nowadays.

Just look at how impossible it has become to convict someone without dash cam video of the person commiting a crime.

y'all don't trust your popo enough no mo...
Posted by GeneStoner on February 27, 2013 at 4:59 PM · Report this

That was an early criticism of hot-spot policing, but in places where there's enough data to analyze, it seems it doesn't work that way: when crime has gone down in hot spots, it generally hasn't popped up elsewhere (NYC is the pioneer in this sort of stuff, software-based and otherwise).

Why it doesn't work the way one might think it would is still a complete mystery, but there are theories; some think criminals, like most people, don't stray much from a set routine in a small physical area from day to day; others think that some high-crime areas develop a sort of geographically-defined permissive social space. But without data, these are just-so stories; no-one knows yet why the thing works the way it seems to.
Posted by robotslave on February 27, 2013 at 8:03 PM · Report this

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