Samuel Greengard The Los angeles Police Department utilizes three years of crime data to generate daily probability reports about when and where crimes are most likely to occur.
Society | DOI: 10.1145/2093548.2093555
Policing the future
Computer programs and new mathematical
algorithms are helping law enforcement agencies
better predict when and where crimes will occur.
In A DArk alley in north Los An- geles, two men exit a car and on ski masks. They make their way to the back win- dow of a first-floor apartment
and shatter the locked window with
a hammer. One of the men carefully
reaches through the broken glass and
attempts to unlock the dead bolt from
inside. At that instant, however, a pair
of police officers shine their flashlights on the burglars and order them
It might appear the police officers
just happened to be at the right place
at the right time. In reality, they had
been patrolling the area more closely
because a computer program had informed them the likelihood of a burglary was high. The software even pinpointed the location and time frame
that the crime was most likely to occur.
Such accounts might sound like
the stuff of science-fiction novels and
films, such as Minority Report. But, remarkably, the future is now. A growing number of researchers and law
enforcement agencies are exploring—
and in some cases already testing—
predictive policing. Using increasingly
sophisticated computer models and algorithms, they are transforming Philip
K. Dick novels into reality.
build visualizations that weren’t possible only a few years ago.”
PhotoGraPh by Cole MartIn
“The goal is to
from a reactive
process to a proactive
Police departments in a number of
U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, New
York, Memphis, and Santa Cruz, are
turning to the concept to gain a better
understanding of how and where to deploy resources. They are looking to stop
burglaries, armed robberies, car thefts,
and snag motorists running red lights.
During the last several years, predictive policing has gained more acceptance among police departments.
“The goal is to transform policing from
a reactive process to a proactive process,” says Andrew Adams, professor of
information ethics and deputy director
of the Center of Business Information
Ethics at Meiji University. “It’s being
driven by marked advances in computing processing power and the ability to
The concept behind predictive policing is relatively straightforward: Feed
reams of data—particularly data focused on the time, distribution, and
geography of past events—into a database and ferret out patterns that would
not be apparent to the human eye or
brain. With the resulting data, it is
possible to adjust patrols and other resources to create a stronger deterrent,
but also to predict where crimes are
likely to take place and be in a better
position to apprehend suspects.
Predictive policing “doesn’t replace
police knowledge or experience, it sim-