Community Outreach VS. Predictive Policing for Safer Communities

Predictive policing is being used by many municipal and federal law enforcement agencies both domestically and internationally to decrease crime. From what I have seen and read, it is a promising technology. But I want to focus on the other side of policing; community outreach and discuss how data and analytics can be helpful.

Community outreach is a mechanism that has been used for decades to ensure kids are safe, off the streets and positively engaged within their communities. This article will discuss how this type of proactive and holistic community engagement is ready for an upgrade with predictive and targeted outreach. I can share an example from my time in New York City that is a good role model for the type of community outreach I am proposing.

The Mayor’s Office of Data and Analytics (MODA), where I was most recently the director, partnered with the Small Business Services (SBS) agency to work on a project for the small business community in NYC. The SBS agency believed that fines levied against entrepreneurs while attempting to grow their business often served as an impediment to their growth. SBS leadership came to MODA with a strategy that they felt could be executed using precision analytics and location intelligence. They wanted MODA to identify neighborhoods in NYC to focus training efforts around regulations and policy for entrepreneurs to effectively minimize the fines that they might incur.

After training was executed, the number of fines levied by entrepreneurs across NYC lowered by over 30 percent. I often like to say that looking for something in NYC is like looking for a needle in a haystack. In this instance, MODA helped SBS by “burning down” that haystack, and allowing them to target the right communities for effective and impactful training. I believe we can apply a similar strategy and tactic of targeted outreach to drive down crime in cities.

I was recently listening in on a local city town hall meeting where the chief of police, along with other city leaders, were available for questions and comments from the community. They discussed the crime epidemic in the city. Many people from the community were concerned that too many resources were being put towards policing and not enough funding for community projects and initiatives. City leadership was arguing that they had been deploying programs for youth and non-violence initiatives across the city.

My immediate question was to ask if these programs were deployed strategically to have the greatest impact on violence across the city and if so, were they deployed predictively to preemptively stop any growth of crime hotspots? And last, were they deployed in a way that the programs’ impacts could be quantified and shared with the community?

Looking back, my suggestion would be to map the neighborhoods and districts where crime had risen or stayed the same over the last five to ten years. Then, I would add on top of that a map layer of all the neighborhoods where government and privately-funded programs and initiatives were deployed in the community. Part of the issue is that this type of data is not always readily available in a complete form to cities, but for the sake of this argument, let’s assume it is.

First, we would isolate the areas where there has been an increase in crime and some sort of community program deployed. Then, we would look for areas where crime decreased and programs deployed. Next, we would look at the types of programs and to what extent they were deployed (such as the level of resources, duration, type of program, etc.). Essentially, we would look for an archetype of a successfully deployed program. We would also need to know whether it makes sense for programs to be run in partnership with schools during the day, or after school hours in the evening.

All of these concepts and more should be taken into consideration when implementing programs to reduce crime in a city. The key is to have deliberate and data-driven targeting of impactful programs, instead of a smattering of programs in areas where crime exists just to show some sort of action. Thinking strategically allows cities to manage program budgets effectively.

Understanding where crime is happening and likely to happen is important. What we need to do with that information is not just increase police effort, but instead use community outreach to target those areas with data-driven community engagement strategies. Smarter and effective governing leads to safer communities.

Amen Ra Mashariki is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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