November 15 2013
This commentary appeared in Government Technology on November 13, 2013.
“Predictive policing.” The very term tends to send public expectations soaring. If police can predict where and when crime will occur, it's reasonable to ask, why is there still crime in my neighborhood?
The answer is that predictive policing is not an end-all solution, but rather a tool that must be used in concert with other policing resources as part of a broader anti-crime effort. Used properly, predictive policing can predict the risk of future events, but not the events themselves.
The “predictions” generated by software-driven predictive policing systems are typically like a weather forecast that might suggest rain in specific areas. When rain is in the forecast, people can do their best to try and respond. But sometimes predictions will mean you carry an umbrella when you don't need it and sometimes you end up with damp clothes when the rain that was predicted for the center city ends up in the suburbs instead.