A computer program that is being credited with crime reduction in the San Fernando Valley, is now being used by the Los Angeles Police Department. The program is based on an algorithm and is said to be able to predict where crime will occur.
The LAPD is using this system in five divisions covering 130 square miles and has plans to expand its use.
The software uses crime data and an algorithm to determine areas where criminal activity is likely. It places a box on these areas on a map. Patrol officers are then encouraged to “go in the box” when they have spare time on their shifts.
According to the Associated Press, the goal isn’t to increase arrests, but to prevent crime in the first place or catch criminals in the process of committing an offense.
The Foothills Division of the valley, where officers are using the system, about 170 officers are spending about 70 hours a week in the boxes. This area has shown the highest crime reduction—13% since the program was initiated. This is compared to a slight increase in other areas of the city.
Departments across the country have their eyes on the LAPD to see how effective the program is. Many are lining up to use similar predictive programs.
But there are questions about how officers will use the data and the challenges that will no doubt come up.
Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, from the University of the District of Columbia, says he is worried that some departments could use the data in such a way that it would be considered profiling of an entire neighborhood. He cautions departments that the system is not foolproof and that, “it’s important to ensure it doesn’t harm the civil liberties of the people living in those areas.”
Ferguson said he envisions a legal challenge at some point. He used an example of an officer patrolling a predicted area of burglary and who sees a man carrying a bag and detains the man because he looks suspicious.
“Alone, a man carrying a bag is not reasonable suspicion,” Ferguson explained. “But in court, the officer will say, ‘The computer told me to go there.’ For the lawyer or the court, what are you going to do with this information? You can’t cross-examine a computer.”
Predictive policing has been around for a few decades, but is getting more precise with these latest computer programs.
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