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BLOG: Analytics help police stop crime before it happens

Linda Rosencrance | Nov. 16, 2011
Capt. Sean Malinowski of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has just done something once unimaginable for a commanding officer: He's given up control of deploying his beat officers to a computer.

The SCPD just finished it's three-month analysis of the algorithm and the department learned a couple things: There isn't enough crime in Santa Cruz to make a definitive statement about causality, but there was a correlation between the number of extra checks the officers ran in the hotspot areas and a reduction in the crime types the department was targeting.

Accurate Predictions

"So for every extra 50 checks we ran in the city per week we found a two percentage-point decrease in the targeted crime types," Friend says. "The predictions [based on the algorithm] where crimes will occur are 10 times more accurate than if you let an officer go where he wants to go."

Malinowski isn't impressed with the Santa Cruz department's methodology.

"Santa Cruz will have a difficult time making a scientific claim that the [computer] forecast contributed to a reduction in crime, because I think they had very little in the way of crime analysis before," he says. "And they didn't set it up as an experiment. It takes a little more time and effort to do it the way we're going to do it."

Malinowski, who explains that his station is the only one in the LAPD currently engaged in the experiment, wants to be able to tell his counterparts at other LAPD stations that he went strictly by the computer forecast and realized, say, an additional 2 percent, 3 percent or 4 percent reduction in property crimes.

"We're experimenting and we'll see how it goes and if it will answer the questions: 'Does the forecast add value to the process of assigning missions for patrol?' and 'Will it give us some information on how many officers we need in a certain part of our jurisdiction and for how long?' and 'Will it make an impact on property crime in a certain very small geographic space like a block?' We're going to be collecting data as well so we'll be able to track that," he says.

Malinowski says LAPD Chief Charlie Beck as well as former LAPD Chief William Bratton both support using predictive analytics to inform the department's decision-making in fighting crime because they know that it's getting harder and harder to slash crime rates.

Crime is down so dramatically in the Foothills "that we're victims of our own success in some way," he says. "Take burglary of a motor vehicle: [We're] down 25 percent year-to-date, so what else can I do? I've pretty much exhausted my arsenal, so if I want to eek out a couple more percentage points, then it looks like I have to use the data to do that."

Malinowski says at some point he may think about using a commercial product, but for now the easiest thing to do is work with the UCLA researchers because they come with their own government funding--and unlike the vendors he's talked to who are in it for the profit, the researchers' motives are "more pure."


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