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Santa Cruz Police Department First in Nation to Use Predictive Policing
Tuesday, Jul. 19, 2011
Imagine a world where police can predict when and where crime happens, just as meteorologists can with thunderstorms. Sounds like something out of a Hollywood sci-fi movie, but the idea is now a reality for the Santa Cruz Police Department, who fully implemented Assistant Professor George Mohler's algorithm on July 1.
Mohler, who teaches at Santa Clara University's Mathematics and Computer Science Department, has been looking at different ways he can use mathematical models to predict where and when a series of crimes are likely to happen after the initial one.
“The concept isn’t very different from the way seismologists assess the risk of aftershocks following a major earthquake,” he says.
Mohler and his co-researcher from UCLA tested thousands of burglaries in the Los Angeles area. Their calculations predicted which city blocks were likely to be targeted the next day. Mohler also used his algorithms to test where and when gang violence in the Los Angeles area happened after the initial attack. The results showed similar patterns.
“Innovations occur on both sides and criminal enterprise is becoming more complex and more technologically-focused,” says Zach Friend, Santa Cruz Police Department’s press information officer and crime analyst. “It’s essential that we stay a step ahead in that race and we’re hopeful that Professor Mohler’s predictive policing methods can help us maintain that edge.”
Mohler’s theory is now getting the attention of more authorities. He's working with the Los Angeles Police Department to launch the system in September.
While Mohler’s work sounds like a successful start to predictive policing, he says his role is to create the mathematical models and that someone still needs to study the results and make changes in police behavior.
“The ultimate goal is to take these mathematical models and hopefully tell police where they should patrol each day, ultimately preventing crime, not just predicting it,” Mohler says.
Mohler and Friend are available for media interviews.