Milpitas, Calif., Police Department Nixes Predictive Policing Contract

About a year after the city authorized a three-year, $37,000 contract with California-based PredPol Inc. for predictive policing software, the department pulled the plug, citing minimal benefit that did not justify continuing costs.

by Ian Bauer, The Mercury News / July 14, 2016

(TNS) — Three years ago, Milpitas Police Department had hopes of employing a new crime-fighting technology that bordered on something one might see in a science fiction movie.

But about a year after the city authorized a three-year, $37,000 contract with California-based PredPol Inc. for so-called predictive policing software — which uses mathematics, social science and probability to geographically pinpoint and ultimately reduce crime — the department pulled the plug on the agreement.

"After approximately one year of usage, it was our experience that the minimal benefit did not justify continuing costs," Milpitas Police Chief Steve Pangelinan said last week.

In 2013, police here were interested in PredPol's Web-based algorithmic software that calculates historic crime trends, demographics and even the weather in order to deploy officers to areas that experience the most crime. At the time, Pangelinan told this newspaper the predictive technology had the ability to locate crime to an area as small as 500 feet by 500 feet.

"In total, it will hopefully reduce crime," Pangelinan previously said.

Fast-forward three years and the police chief found the software less than stellar.

"It was our experience that we often did not have sufficient staff to post officers at PredPol-identified locations and still remain responsive to priority calls for service," Pangelinan said.

He added his police force discovered that within Milpitas' approximately 14 square miles the "existing internal processes of tracking crime and identifying potential areas of exposure were often more accurate than results received from PredPol."

Since ditching PredPol, Pangelinan asserted that Milpitas police are not using similar, crime-predictive technologies in part due to the size of the city.

"I think the PredPol system may have greater benefit to law enforcement organizations policing much larger geographical jurisdictions where greater variables in crime patterns may exist," he said.

When the city's police force had envisioned using PredPol, the technology had come with some fanfare.

That included Time magazine, which called the predictive policing software one of the best inventions of 2011. Similarly, a 2012 Associated Press story on the new technology stated that Los Angeles Police Department was the largest agency to embrace the technology.

PredPol's website states that its tool was developed over the course of six years by a team of mathematicians and social scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles; Santa Clara University; and University of California, Irvine in close collaboration with crime analysts and line-level officers at the Los Angeles and Santa Cruz police departments.

PredPol states that the mission for its software is simple: place officers at the right time and location to give them the best chance of preventing crime.

To accomplish this, PredPol processes crime data in order to: assign probabilities of future crime events to regions of space and time; present estimated crime risk in a usable framework to law enforcement decision makers; and lead to more efficient and more accurate resource deployment by local law enforcement agencies.

Besides Los Angeles police, the Santa Cruz, Modesto and Atlanta police departments have implemented PredPol's software and claim reductions in crime in those cities, the firm's website states.

According to Pangelinan, there was no real cost to the city for using PredPol software. A 2013 Citizen Options for Public Safety (COPS) grant — generally awarded by the state of California to law enforcement agencies each year — helped finance the purchase.

"We utilized state grant funds of $12,500 for the one-year subscription," he said.

Meanwhile, Pangelinan asserted that crime rates, which can be cyclical, rising and falling year over year, in the city of Milpitas has been declining as of late.

He said the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Part 1 serious, violent crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, auto theft, arson and burglary have all seen decreases in Milpitas in the last year or so.

"In 2013 we realized a 2 percent increase in FBI Part 1 crimes, and in 2014 a 4 percent increase. However, in 2015 crime in these same categories declined by more than 8 percent," Pangelinan said. "Through May of 2016 crime in these same categories are down 13 percent below year-to-date numbers in 2015."

But Pangelinan would not comment as to the reason — whether it's old-fashioned police work or some other factor — why crime here appears to be on the decline.

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©2016 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

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