Tacoma police are predicting a drop in property crimes now that they’ve launched a new crime-forecasting program.
The software makes educated guesses on where crimes are most likely to occur, and that’s changing how the department deploys its resources. What has administrators excited is that the program narrows its predictions to a two-hour time frame and a 500-square-foot area.
“It gives the officers a sharper focus so they know where to go and what time,” assistant chief Pete Cribbin said. “If we can get officers to be in these areas as little as 15 minutes on the hour, it interrupts the crime or prevents it.”
The program, dubbed PredPol for “predictive policing,” is being rolled out to all 168 patrol officers in early March. A group of officers is testing it to work out any kinks.
Time magazine called the program one of the best inventions of 2011.
The program was funded using unspent money from a previous federal grant, officials said.
Cribbin declined to say how much was spent, citing the department’s arrangement with PredPol. Because the department already had collected many years of statistics and was willing to showcase the program for other Northwest agencies, PredPol priced the program within Tacoma’s budget.
The program is part of Chief Don Ramsdell’s plan to reduce property crime by 10 percent this year. The crimes rose 7.7 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to city statistics.
The crime predictions will automatically update every three hours.
Cribbin said it will be months before department officials can determine whether property crimes are dropping. In fact, they expect to see an initial surge as they urge residents to report every crime, even if the odds of solving it are slim.
That will give the program more fodder to make accurate predictions and potentially prevent future crimes.
PredPol is credited with helping to reduce property crimes in other cities that have experimented with the program, including Los Angeles and New York.
Tacoma is the first agency in the Pacific Northwest to use the software. Seattle police have visited the department to see how it works.
The last step for Tacoma police is getting officers to change the way they think about crime, which administrators said could take a bit of cajoling.
“We have to get officers to understand why this is important,” Cribbin said. “We have to get them to buy into data rather than instincts.”stacia.glenn@ thenewstribune.com