The ability to stop crime before it happens has long been a goal of law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Scared straight programs, education and outreach, and surveillance are all geared at preventing possible crimes. But science fiction has always been more interested in preventing crime by predicting them with technology. This idea (and its faults) were the core of the 2002 film Minority Report, in which Tom Cruise headed a “PreCrime” division that arrested folks for the crimes they are supposed to commit in the future. We may still be lightyears away from predicting specific crimes and perpetrators, but several police departments in California have been testing a way to predict crimes in a somewhat more general fashion.
Based on a mathematical algorithm developed by UCLA, this new computerized “predictive policing” program essentially expands the practice of identifying high-crime areas and increasing police presence there. The algorithm uses years of crime statistics to predict, theoretically “with pinpoint accuracy”, where crimes are most likely to happen on any day. It provides police officers 500x500ft boxes that are “crime hot-spots” for the day in questions, which they then patrol as many times as their duties allow. The tactic seems to be fairly similar to traditional patrol and high-visibility approaches, but within a more highly focused, technologically-predicted area.