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Predictive Policing
By Jamia Yant
April 13th, 2012

 

In order to effectively compare and contrast the application of information technology (IT) to optimize police departments’ performance to reduce crime versus random patrols of the streets, we first have to look at exactly what information technology is available to police today.  The term predictive policing is the name given to “any policing strategy or tactic that develops and uses information and advanced analysis to inform forward-thinking crime prevention”. (Predictive Policing Symposium, 2010)


The five elements of predictive policing focusing on are integrated information and operations, seeing the big picture, cutting-edge analysis and technology, linkage to performance, adaptability to changing conditions.  There are a very large number of ways technology used to implement these five elements:  patrol staffing and resource allocation, time and location of future incidence in a crime pattern, identify individuals who are likely to reoffend/early detection of career criminals, analysis of predatory patterns, threat and vulnerability assessment, city/neighborhood planning, traffic management, crowd control …and the list goes on.


In a world where technology is developing and evolving faster than it can be implemented, it is realistic to assume that the police force would adapt and use that technology to place them in a good position to be able to adequately and effectively do its job.  The first element, integrated information and operation, removes silos allowing for simpler and timelier access to information.  It centers on developing, managing, and operating and integrated information infrastructure.  One of the largest IT pitfalls of many businesses is having information isolated with departments.  The police are no different, they maintain many multiple databases.  Rarely, in the past, were any of those systems connected.  This was a huge breakdown in communication.  Information needs to be cross functional.  Information sources needs to be linked to police analytical systems.  Poor information sharing can hinder and prevent effective analysis and investigation. In order to effectively predict the future and take necessary action is to have a complete picture of the current situation. It is a must for police to integrate their information systems to enable situational awareness. The second element, seeing the big picture, can be interpreted several ways correctly.  But as a whole, it is interpreted in this situation as being able to get a collective vision on an entire geographical area, as well as, using the data to more effectively schedule resources and develop cities and neighborhoods.  It is important to view each incident the police have to deal with as an information gathering opportunity.  It is important the police are able to use the information gathered to then see patterns developing in communities.  Everyday activities can eat up officer’s time and energy but it is important they still be able to get beyond crisis control and strategize for better crime control. The third element, cutting edge analysis and technology, is as straight forward as it sounds.  “There is a wealth of tools and technology already available and it is imperative that departments learn how to use them.” (Predictive Policing Symposium, 2010) The fourth element, linkage to performance, is an extension of the more than just the HR version of tracking performance.  Police performance needs to be tracked but they also need to track performance targets and crime trends.  This tracking enables forecasting that is very valuable in the prediction of future crimes.  The new technology available allows police to input their own situations/scenarios instead of being limited to past situations.   Police need to be enabled to see bad trends developing before they become a public threat.  Resource and personnel management is strengthened by having this technology at the police department’s disposal. The fifth element, adaptability to changing conditions, is one of the most important elements in my opinion.  As technology advances and preventative policing systems get implemented it is important that staff gets the training, education and management to take full advantage of the sources available to them.  It would do no good to have the ability to see crime trends developing and not have the ability to take advantage of it.  The staff from upper management down to the patrol officer needs to be equipped to execute tasks provided to them through the use of targeted information analysis.

 
Once faced with the options provided to the police through predictive policing, it is easy to see how random trolling of the streets is an outdated way of thinking.  Before NY introduced their management style, the old way of doing things was to be reactive to reoccurring crimes instead of proactive.  The old way of doing things also did not use the police force resources effectively.  Information technology has proven to achieve impressive strides toward public safety and neighborhood development.  With predictive policing these gains will continue. One example is the use of traffic cameras to enforce speed.  The use of these cameras has given police forces the ability to use their officers more effectively. 
“CompStat- or COMPSTAT-(short for COMPuter STATistics or COMParative STATistics) is the name given to the New York City Police Department's accountability process and has since been replicated in many other departments.  COMPSTAT is a management philosophy or organizational management tool for police departments, roughly equivalent to Six Sigma or TQM, and is not a computer system or software package.” (State of CA, 2010)  However, if I were to compare it to an information system (IS) the (4) COMPSTAT Principles would easily parallel the (4) basic IS functions.


(4) basic IS functions

(4) COMPSTAT Principles

Input

Accurate and timely intelligence – know what is happening

Processing

Effective tactics – have a plan

Output

Rapid deployment – do it quickly

Feedback

Relentless follow-up and assessment: If it works, do more.  If not, do something else.

          The first basic IS function, input, closely is easy to compare to COMPSTATS first principle because “at the core of each activity is the use of computer-generated and other statistical data that are gathered in as close to real time as possible and subsequently presented in various formats in hard copy and electronically at CompStat meetings; formats include charts, graphs, maps, command profiles, and crime snapshot reports. The analysis of this information by command and staff officers then triggers action on identified problems.”  Data and information about crimes are captured or collected and input into a computer system. (Godown, 2012)  The second IS function, processing, is the same as effective tactics because  “after command and staff officers are in possession of timely and accurate intelligence, they are accountable for the creation, development, and implementation of crime reduction strategies and action plans for the purpose of minimizing the identified crime or risk management problems.”  Data is transformed, converted and analyzed for analysis.  (Godown, 2012)  The third IS function, output, is the same as rapid deployment because “Once an issue has been identified and appropriate resources have been formulated into a tactical plan, command personnel must rapidly deploy the plan to get results before their target moves.”   The data that has been analyzed can now be used to strategize and used to form a plan of action. (Godown, 2012)  The fourth IS function, feedback, is the same as relentless follow up and assessment because “As Jack Maple (COMPSTAT’s creator) aptly stated about the CompStat process, “You can only expect what you inspect.”   A feedback mechanism is put into place to assist with monitoring and controlling operations. (Godown, 2012) 
Information systems have allowed police departments that implement tools such as COMPSTAT to respond to crime faster because information is power.  And COMPSTAT has increased police officers ‘intellectual capacity to solve problems and to react efficiently to crime. 


In my opinion, a SWOT analysis would render the following information.  The strengths of this system would have to be focused around reliable processes.  The police have proven to be agile and motivated.  The reduction in crime rates shows strength in the processes that are being used now.  And they seem to be improving as the algorithms and software improves.  It also appears to me that the more data collected the more accurate the forecasts.  The weakness in this system is the weakness I see in every system – potential human corruption.  One article I read listed several methods for manipulating COMPSTATs figures by  not filing reports, misclassifying crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, under-valuing the property lost to crime so it’s not considered a felony, and reporting a series of crimes as a single event.  There are obviously many opportunities for developing this market.  Software packages that have improvements and are made more user friendly will allow this type of management style to continue to grow and be implemented.  I don’t see any threat of obsolescence; in fact I see just the opposite. 

 

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