SPD: New software will improve policing with 'crime forecasts'

SPD: New software will improve policing with 'crime forecasts'
Mayor Mike McGinn and Police Chief John Diaz introduce the Seattle Police Department's new Predictive Policing software during a press conference Wednesday.

SEATTLE -- In the same way Seattle residents check the weather forecast before leaving the house, officers in the Seattle Police Department's East and Southwest precincts are now getting crime forecasts when they start their shifts.

The crime forecasts, courtesy of new Precinct Policing software implemented Sunday, shapes where officers patrol in between 911 calls based on statistics of where and when crime has occurred since 2008.

“The Predictive Policing software is estimated to be twice as effective as a human data analyst working from the same information,” Police Chief John Diaz said in a press release. “It’s all part of our effort to build an agile, flexible and innovative police department that provides the best service possible to the public.”

The software, based on models for predicting aftershocks following earthquakes, was developed in a partnership between UCLA and the LAPD. It uses a complex algorithm and deep data analysis to forecast locations where crime is likely to occur.

According to the Seattle Police Department, Predictive Policing software can narrow down likely crime locations to an area as small as 500 feet by 500 feet, basically two city blocks.

During a press conference announcing the software Wednesday, Mayor Mike McGinn said the LAPD saw a 13 percent reduction in crime after implementing Predictive Policing.

“This technology will allow us to be proactive rather than reactive in responding to crime,” McGinn said in a statement following the press conference. “This investment, along with our existing hot spot policing work, will help us to fulfill the commitments made in the 20/20 Plan to use data in deploying our officers to make our streets safer.”

McGinn said Predictive Policing can also be used as a tool to get the community involved, such as by improving lighting or building fences, in areas where crime is more likely to happen.

He said another goal of the software is to take unconscious bias out patrolling. Predictive Policing only analyzes where and when crimes were committed, not who committed them.

While the software is currently only being used to track property crimes in neighborhoods around Capitol Hill, Madison Park, the Central District and West Seattle, SPD plans to expand it to more neighborhoods and more types of crimes beginning in April.