The Santa Cruz Police Department has begun testing a prediction method for property crimes like car and home burglaries and car thefts. So far, the program has helped officers pre-empt several crimes and has led to five arrests.
The notion of predictive policing is attracting increasing attention from law enforcement agencies around the country as departments struggle to fight crime at a time when budgets are being slashed.
“We’re facing a situation where we have 30 percent more calls for service but 20 percent less staff than in the year 2000, and that is going to continue to be our reality,” says Zach Friend, the police department’s crime analyst. “So we have to deploy our resources in a more effective way, and we thought this model would help.”
Efforts to systematically anticipate when and where crimes will occur are being tried out in several cities. The Chicago Police Department, for example, created a predictive analytics unit last year.
But Santa Cruz’s method is more sophisticated than most. Based on models for predicting aftershocks from earthquakes, it generates projections about which areas and windows of time are at highest risk for future crimes by analyzing and detecting patterns in years of past crime data. The projections are recalibrated daily, as new crimes occur and updated data is fed into the program.