Seattle, Tacoma rolling out new ‘predictive policing’ software

Feb 27, 2013

Imagine you could predict crime the same way weather forecasters issue storm warnings.  

It’s happening – with new software recently deployed in Seattle and Tacoma. Police precincts in both cities hope it will help them allocate patrols more effectively.

The software is called Pred-Pol, short for “predictive policing.” It was developed by a professor at UCLA in cooperation with the Los Angeles Police Department and based on the same kind of computer modeling that helps scientists predict aftershocks following earthquakes.

Using five years worth of data, Pred-Pol can predict, down to a two-hour window and 500 square foot area, where crimes will most likely happen next.

Seattle Police Chief John Diaz didn’t contain his enthusiasm at a press conference announcing the new tool.

“Think about this, being able to take all that crime data and being able to use it in such a way that we’re able with a fair amount of accuracy to predict where a crime is going to happen in the future. Incredible,” Diaz said.

Since Sunday, it’s been used in Seattle’s East and Southwest precincts. The plan is to expand that citywide in April. Tacoma is on a similar timeline.

The software costs about the same as one officer’s salary. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn says it will help the police decide where their patrols are truly needed the most.

“Our aim with data-driven policing is to minimize the influence that unconscious bias can have on these decisions. So, with this software we can take that out of the equation,” McGinn said. “In the neighborhood in LA where they piloted this, they were able to reduce their crime rates by 13%.”

Unbiased and data-driven policing are goals outlined in Seattle’s 20/20 plan for police reforms. The plan is part of the city’s response to a Department of Justice finding that Seattle Police have engaged in a pattern of using excessive force.