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The Art of Prediction

altSANTA CRUZ > Time magazine recognizes SCPD for its crime-predicting technology

Last week, the Santa Cruz Police Department’s newest technology was named one of the “50 Best Inventions of 2011” by Time magazine. The technology, which has been in use since July, can help officers prevent crimes before they occur.

The department’s predictive policing program is similar to the technology used to predict earthquake aftershocks. The program uses past data and mathematical algorithms to generate crime “hot spots.” Each morning, the program provides officers with 10 500-square-foot areas where crimes are most likely to occur. The police department has already made eight arrests as a result of the technology. But, according to police spokesman and crime analyst Zach Friend, that’s not the point.

“Arrests aren’t the focus of it,” says Friend. “The point is to deter crime, not to arrest individuals.”

Thus far, the police department has been pleased with the results. For the first six months of 2011, Santa Cruz was on pace to set the record for the most burglaries in the city’s history. But the department has seen significant improvements since they put the technology in place.

“We’ve been faced with a pretty strong up tick in the number of thefts and burglaries,” says Friend. “But since we’ve implemented the program, they’ve begun to decline.”

The increase in crime, coupled with the department’s budget issues, made issuing the technology a no-brainer.

“There’s no cost to us to adopt it,” says Friend. “Given the budget cuts, it would be difficult to hire additional officers, so we wanted something that wouldn’t cost anything more, but would still help us address the issues.”

The technology was developed by Santa Clara University’s Dr. George Mohler, along with a team of researchers and mathematicians from UCLA. The Los Angeles Police Department was the first agency to provide the team with data, but Santa Cruz is the first city to actually implement the technology. The LAPD began using the technology two weeks ago, and Friend and Lt. Bernie Escalante visited Los Angeles last week to help the officers make the transition.

In January, the SCPD and Dr. Mohler’s team will do a statistical analysis of the program to judge its effectiveness. But in the meantime, the police department will continue using the technology to patrol the streets. At least anecdotally, it seems as though the program has been effective and has been received positively by police officers.

“So far, all signs point to us continuing the program,” says Friend.

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