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New Police Technology Helps Predict Where Crime Will Happen

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Posted: Thursday, October 17, 2013 3:30 pm | Updated: 3:48 pm, Mon Oct 21, 2013.

Reading Police are watching closely.

That is, watching just where in the city a crime might be about to happen.

City Police have recently implemented new predictive policing technology called PredPol which uses computers to actually detect where future crimes will be committed based on past crimes.

Predictive policing is technology which crunches data to determine where to send officers to try to stop crime. It is based on technology that is used to predict aftershocks from earthquakes.

William Heim, Reading Police Chief, said that PredPol, based in Santa Cruz, California, will prove to be another valuable resource in reducing crime.

“It’s one more tool we have,” Heim said. “No one can answer what the one thing is we can do singularly to reduce crime.”

Heim and Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer introduced the predictive policing software to the public on Oct. 17th at City Hall.

Reading police have negotiated a two-year contract with PredPol, which has been installed for about a month.

The technology cost $3,500 to implement and will cost an additional $17,500 a year.

“It’s a very good deal,” Heim said, made more attractive because the city was able to use federal crime prevention and reduction grants to pay for the technology.

As part of the process to install the software, city police sent PredPol ten years of police reports via e-mail.

PredPol then used the data to create algorithms to predict where crime will happen.

When the software detects where a crime will take place, a red square shows up within an approximately 500 square foot area.

Heim said police have made two arrests in progress – one for a burglary in progress, the other for auto theft – since PredPol was installed.

Predictive Policing is the latest piece of policing technology working its way into law-enforcement stations around the country.

Reading has purchased similar predictive policing software which is used in Santa Cruz and Los Angeles.

Heim has been in touch with police there, who have said since implementing the technology crime has dropped by up to 25 percent.

Reading Police are looking for the same results.

City Police Captain Madison Winchester reviews PredPol computer software throughout the day and looks for potential crime locations.

 When a potential future crime shows up on the computer screen, he notifies police supervisors who print out those areas and give them to beat officers to investigate.

“Anything that helps our officers be at the right place at the right time is so beneficial to us,” Winchester said. 

The city has an existing crime mapping system that shows where crimes have already been committed.

Heim said while the crime mapping system is useful, predicting policing software has more sophisticated capabilities.

“It’s more robust than our mapping system,” Heim said.

Right now, Reading police are using PredPol to concentrate on areas where burglaries might occur, the most frequent crime committed in the city.

Heim said police generally receive more potential activity alerts in high crime areas such as the southeast part of the city.

It’s too early to determine how PredPol has benefited the city in its crime reduction efforts, but Heim said police will be evaluating how useful the technology is in reducing crime during the next several months.

“It’s not 100 percent foolproof,” Heim said. “But the best prediction of the future is past behavior…we are going to see how we make it.”

Heim said PredPol is also a great resource because it does not require any more police manpower.

“It’s a force manipulator,” Heim said. “We can accomplish the same goals without additional time or employees.”

While Heim is hopeful PredPol technology will eventually reduce crime in the city, he said police are still the most important asset in preventing and stopping crime.

“Nothing can replace great police work,” Heim said.  

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