Predictive Policing and the Role of GIS

This blog was originally posted at http://acronymonline.org – a blog for AEC, GIS, and public sector digital design professionals.

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times, Stopping Crime Before it Starts, explores the practice that sophisticated analysis of data can sometimes tell law enforcement where criminals are headed. The notion, known as ‘predictive policing’ uses computer analysis of information about previous crimes to predict when and where future crimes will occur.

The LAPD has positioned itself at the center of the predictive policing universe, teaming up with UCLA, where researchers are studying the ways criminals behave in urban settings.

“The naysayers want you to believe that humans are too complex and too random — that this sort of math can’t be done,” said Jeff Brantingham, a UCLA anthropologist who is helping to supervise the university’s predictive policing project. “But humans are not nearly as random as we think,” he said.

Predictive policing relies on the theory that homes located in an area that has already been burglarized are more likely themselves to also be burglarized (called an exact or near-repeat effect).

For patrol officers on the streets, mapping software on in-car computers and hand-held devices would show continuous updates on the probability of various crimes occurring in the vicinity, along with the addresses and background information about paroled ex-convicts living in the area.

In turn, information gathered by officers from suspects, witnesses and victims would be fed in real time into a technology nerve center where predictive computer programs churn through huge crime databases.

The use of crime data by police agencies is nothing new. Historically most applications, however, were retrospective. They analyze criminal activity after its taken place. While this is useful information, predictive policing indentifies early warning signs and proactively deploys officer to determined crime “hot spots.”

The Role of GIS in Predictive Policing

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) plays an important role in predictive policing giving law enforcement officers added insight into future crime prevention.

GIS has been used to produce crime “hot spot” maps as well as to conduct spatial analyses that suggest relationships between crime and characteristics of the social and physical environments in which crime concentrations occur. GIS mapping and satellite imagery can supplement maps with detailed dynamic pictures of the reported incident’s location and the surrounding neighborhoods.

GIS’s capabilities allow officers view specific types of crimes for a particular area and perform crime mapping and analysis functions. Officers can view maps of crime hot spots by location or crime type, such as burglary; they can also see specific incidents within a ZIP code, neighborhood, or other user-defined area. Data for weather, events, time, case history, associated suspects and aerial photos can also be integrated. The result is a sophisticated data model of criminal activity with a user-defined set of elements that predict criminal behavior.

To read the article Stopping Crime before it Starts, visit:


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