Predictive Policing Symposiums: What Chiefs Expect From Predictive Policing - Perspectives From Police Chiefs

Chief George Gascón, San Francisco Police Department, Calif (right) and Chief Tom Casady, Lincoln, Neb. (left)

First Predictive Policing Symposium

At the First Predictive Policing Symposium, in Los Angeles, November 18, 2009, Dr. Ellen Scrivner described the excitement and energy at the Predictive Policing symposium as similar to the enthusiasm at the NIJ Conference in the early 1990s, when people were talking about the new concept of community policing. Similar to that conference, and building on the momentum of the new Harvard Executive Sessions, the work from this symposium will help frame the concept of predictive policing.

Chief Jim Bueermann wondered how he would explain predictive policing to his colleagues when he returns home. He said everyone at the symposium shares a similar responsibility to explain this concept to their stakeholders, including mayors and council members, and to convince them that predictive policing is something different.

Bueermann also noted the power of predictive policing. He said predictive policing holds the promise of enhancing police legitimacy in the community, but if departments are not prepared, it could cause more harm than good, and we need to guard against that.

Chief Tom Casady questioned whether predictive policing is actually a new paradigm or just a coalescing of concepts that are already available. Using technological advancements of surveillance cameras as an example, Casady suggested that police are not necessarily doing anything new or innovative with data; they are doing the same thing but doing it better and quicker. What has changed is the amount of information available to departments because people are collecting data everywhere. He agreed that this information can be used to put predictive policing into action.

Casady said that if we want to create a new paradigm, we need to think about predictive policing in a new way — using information and our capability to implement strategies to prevent crime.

Casady also noted that analytics should be applied to much more than just crime prevention because police work involves more than crime and cited examples such as traffic control and missing persons.

Chief George Gascón said his presentation involves an unpopular topic: the cost of crime and the economic impact of policing on communities. Gascón acknowledged the current economic climate and said even in communities that are doing well, funding for social services is diminishing (libraries are closing, for example). Although intended to save money, the impact on the community and quality of life is significant.

Gascón said that police departments have a social responsibility to respond to these economic times. Predictive policing offers the tools to put cops at the right places at the right times, ultimately doing more with less. Gascón also noted that because police departments do not offer the same types of pensions or health care as they did in the past, officers are not staying for 20 years or longer. As a result, departments may also need to deliver more efficient services with less people. By becoming more efficient with predictive policing, this will be possible.

Second Predictive Policing Symposium

At the Second Predictive Policing Symposium, police chiefs agreed that predictive policing is needed but acknowledged that any change must be incremental and that the approach would differ based on locality and type of crime. They noted that predictive policing is an opportunity to involve young, data- and tech-savvy officers.

Challenges to predictive policing for small- and medium-size departments include the high cost of technology, interoperability concerns and complicated software. Participants questioned how to sustain a program once initial funds run out and how to address an identified problem with limited personnel. They recognized the need for more regionalization, but noted that records management systems tend to vary across jurisdictions, making regional analysis difficult.

Participants discussed using volunteers and university students to help with data analysis, but pointed out that once trained, these people leave the agency. The smaller departments said they need something simple that their officers could use. They called for NIJ or the International Association of Crime Analysts to standardize predictive policing software and fund open-source projects that do not have sustainability costs.

Participants identified additional strategies for overcoming challenges:

  • Have a scalable plan for moving forward.
  • Develop regional partnerships. Use a common records management system within a county, creating a virtual fusion center.
  • Conduct more research about what is working. Highlight and disseminate success stories to academics, the public, leadership and officers to get buy-in.
  • Provide training. 
  • Raise expectations about data quality.
Date Modified: January 6, 2012