Predictive Policing: Mapping Future Crime with PredPol

By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

Founding Editor, bSci21.org

According to Forbes, police departments across America are paying up to $150,000 a year to PredPol, a predictive policing firm, to use its mapping technology to predict future crimes.  The technology utilizes an algorithm that calculates probabilities of future crime from masses of historical data. 

Forbes notes “two or three times a day in almost 60 cities across America, thousands of police officers line up for roll call at the beginning of their shifts.  They’re handed a marked-up map of their beat and told: Between calls, go to the little red boxes…”  

Those red boxes are roughly half the size of a city block and have high probabilities of criminal activity.  

Jef Brantingham and George Mohler, who developed the algorithms found two primary factors in crime prediction — fixed factors (e.g., an out of control bar) or a variable factor (e.g., a gang shooting that sparks retaliations).  The algorithms then calculate risk areas that are likely to see criminal activity that day.

Precincts using PredPol have seen decreases in crime compared to those not using the software.  A study with the LAPD found PredPol a better predictor of crime than their own crime analysts.

Interested readers can read a past bSci21 article on the successful utilization of predictive policing in San Francisco’s BART system.  What is important to note here is that crime is being accurately predicted and influenced without looking at the behavior of particular individuals.  Rather, the data is sociological, concerned with incidence and prevalence of practices over time.  That doesn’t mean behavior is not involved — it certainly is — but it would be impractical to examine the histories of particular individuals in order to predict future occurrences of crime.  

As always, please provide your comments below and don’t forget to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest updates directly to your inbox!  

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns bSci21.org and BAQuarterly.com.  Todd serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues.  He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at todd.ward@bsci21.org.

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