Predictive Policing – Crime Mapping Software that Predicts When and Where Crime Will Happen

A new tool used by some police departments uses software that computes algorithms of past crime information to “predict” when and where future crimes will take place. As the recent ABA Journal article reports, “the idea is to compile past crime details, run them through algorithms and identify future hot spots of specific crimes, such as burglary, down to individual blocks or even smaller areas. “ See ABA Journal, Predictive policing ma help bag burglars – but it may also be a constitutional problem, by Leslie Gordaon (Sept. 1, 2013)

(seettp://–but_it_may_also_be_a_constitutio/). In 2011, predictive policing was named one of the top new inventions by Time Magazine. See id. It allows police departments to patrol certain areas at certain times and take other preventative measures in an effort to reduce crime.

Does it Work?

The FBI’s website posted an article reporting that Santa Cruz and Los Angeles both developed studies to test the effectiveness of the predictive policing software. See Preditive Policing: Using Technology to Reduce Crime, By Zach Friend, M.P.P. (4/9/2013). In Santa Cruz, based on its study, the police department believes the program reduced burglaries by 19 percent over a 6-month period. The LAPD’s controlled experiment also established the model’s effectiveness. In Los Angeles, they used the model in the Foothill Division of the city. The department distributed maps of “hot spots” to officers at the beginning of their shifts. On some days they used the predictive policing software algorithms to establish the hot spots and on other days they produced the maps using traditional LAPD hot spot predictors. The officers had no idea whether the map they received was one produced by the algorithms or traditional measures. The result of the study established that the algorithm method provided twice the accuracy of the traditional maps. The LAPD has now expanded the program to other divisions serving a population of approximately 1.5 million people. See id.

What’s the Problem?

If the predictive policing software is just used to deploy police officers to certain areas, there are probably no constitutional issues. If merely an increased police presence is all it takes to reduce crime, the predictive policing method is working as intended. However, if the officers begin to use the predictive policing hot spot information as a reason to suspect people of criminal activity based on them being in a certain area at a certain time, there are true Fourth Amendment concerns. Simply because a person is at the “hot spot” area should not subject the person to greater risk of a search compared to a person displaying the same activity in a non-hot-spot location. The software data cannot take the place of reasonable suspicion based on articulable facts observed by police officers – and those articulable facts cannot include that the map printout from predictive policing software indicated crime was likely at that spot. The use of this technology provides a real concern for “hot spot profiling,” that is placing a person under extreme scrutiny based solely on being present in a hot spot instead of actually displaying suspicious behavior. As this software becomes more popular, there will inevitably be court cases raising these Fourth Amendment issues.