Santa Cruz PD’s PredPol adds tool for cops, neighbors

Posted on Aug 15, 2013 in PredPol, Santa Cruz Police

From the Santa Cruz Sentinel – Aug. 14:

By Stephen Baxter:

On a day meant to introduce residents to predictive policing hot spots that officers check in their down time, Santa Cruz police Wednesday arrested a man on Beach Street during a predictive check.

The day was billed as International Predictive Policing Day of Action, with police in Kent, England, and Los Angeles sharing locations with residents to try to increase their presence on the street and hopefully prevent crime.

Near Beach and Main streets about 11:45 a.m., police apprehended a 47-year-old man on suspicion of being drunk in public and carrying a concealed knife, both misdemeanors.

Police said it was a small illustration of the idea at work.

“Our goal today is not to arrest a lot of people, it’s to prevent the crime from happening,” said Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel. “I’m exceptionally proud that we were the first ones to do this.”

Launched in 2011, the program essentially uses historical data of the time and location of burglaries and thefts and uses an algorithm to predict future crime. When officers are not responding to other calls, they are asked to patrol in those areas.

Wednesday, some residents gathered at places such as lower Ocean Street and Lincoln and Chestnut streets, which were predicted to have a higher likelihood of burglary, vehicle burglary or vehicle theft.

“It’s almost like Neighborhood Watch in the next century,” said Santa Cruz Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark.

Clark said police have not tracked the number of arrests that have come from the “extra checks,” as police often call them. Yet he said that once or twice a week, an officer on a predictive policing check has either talked to a suspicious person, received information on another case or made an arrest.

The arrests have not been associated with major crimes such as murders or robberies, but they have helped to solve burglaries and put police in places they might not think to patrol.

It’s been a tool that officers have added to their natural intuition, Clark said.

PREDICTIVE EXAMPLES

One night in 2012, for instance, officers were on an extra check near Windham Street when they talked to a man who had more than four GPS units on him.

“No one’s that lost,” Clark said. Through more investigation, “We wrapped up several auto burglary cases off that.”

Last year near North Branciforte and Goss avenues, police stopped a bicyclist and recognized him as a drug user. He wore a NCAA basketball ring and didn’t look like a basketball player; police later linked it to a burglary and returned it.

Clark’s favorite example is that of a Santa Cruz beat cop who was eating his lunch in his patrol car in a downtown parking lot because it was on that shift’s predictive list. He spotted two women trying to break into cars and arrested them.

For neighborhood leaders like Deborah Elston, the list of 15 predictive policing addresses distributed to neighbors on Wednesday were not a big surprise.

They included five areas in the Lower Ocean Street neighborhood, as well as the 100 block of Beach Street and near Seabright Avenue and Murray Street.

Elston was pleased that the list was shared with neighbors, and she encouraged residents to be aware of suspicious people and problems like graffiti — which can lead to more crime.

“When you make the 911 call to report suspicious activity, you never know what you’re preventing,” Elston said.

Although many factors go in to crime trends, overall reported crime dropped more than 25 percent in June and July compared with June and July 2012, according to police.

For instance, there were 45 reported burglaries in the city in July 2013, down from 67 in July 2012.

Elston said she understood it might be difficult to quantify the success of predictive policing because crime could have been prevented by the presence of an officer or neighbor. The person trying door handles on cars to steal things might have gone elsewhere, for instance.

Yet she said that twice in the first few months of the predictive program, she had her cellphone out to call 911 for a suspicious person when an officer on an extra check arrived.

One time was on the San Lorenzo River levee when an officer rolled up to her.

She told him, “I was just about to call you.”

 

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