Along with covering that subject, this great article from City Journal summarizes policing history with a focus on recent technology.
Predictive policing used to be the future,” said career cop William Bratton, “and now it is the present.” In mid-May 2015, Bratton—the visionary former chief of police in Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, and currently again top cop in New York—was talking about his early days as an officer in Boston, about what worked and what didn’t, and about what can work better in the future. That future will involve predictive policing, which Bratton is bringing to New York (a pilot program was launched last summer).
Predictive policing, which Bratton helped develop when he headed the Los Angeles Police Department during the 2000s, seeks not just to fight crime but to anticipate and prevent it. It uses cutting-edge technology and Big Data—some of which comes from past analysis and some of which is new, streaming in real time to an onboard computer in a patrol car—to identify high-risk areas, which precincts can then flood with police. The aim is not to make arrests but to deter crime before it occurs. Predictive policing relies crucially on community engagement—it can work only when the police are seen as part of the neighborhood, rather than as an occupying presence. At a time when police-community relations are frayed and many cities face rising violent-crime rates as well as renewed concern about terrorist threats, the approach may provide a better way forward.
Currently, about a dozen American cities—including Los Angeles as well as Santa Cruz, Atlanta, Georgia, and Tacoma, Washington—are using PredPol, a leading predictive-policing software and analytics program. Many of these cities rolled out the system over the past few years, and they are seeing positive, and sometimes dramatic, results. In Los Angeles, a nearly two-year study by UCLA crime scholars and law-enforcement officials, released this past fall, found that PredPol successfully predicted—and prevented—twice as much crime as human crime analysts did. The LAPD is now using PredPol in 14 of its 21 divisions.
“Every police department in cities of 100,000 people and up,” says criminologist Craig Uchida, “will be using some form of predictive policing in the next few years.” Like every innovation, the method has advocates and critics. Predictive policing strikes its detractors as potentially Orwellian law enforcement; but at its best, it aspires to something quite the opposite—a return, albeit a high-tech one, to the days of police on the beat who knew their constituents and worked with them to keep neighborhoods safe.
The use of information to respond to crime has always been part of the history of policing, an essential part to solving crime after the fact,” Bratton explains. “When Sir Robert Peel [home secretary in early-nineteenth-century England] created the British Metropolitan Police Force, he had nine principles of policing, which were focused on the prevention of crime.”
Before Peel created the Met in 1838, London was policed by the Bow Street Runners, six officers who constituted the city’s first professional police force and solved crimes as a civic service—not, as professional “thief-takers” previously did, for a fee. The force was founded in 1749 by Henry Fielding, author of Tom Jones. It disbanded in 1839, the year after Peel created the Met as a citizen police presence and an alternative to a military force. The Met’s authority depended on public approval. To Peel, this meant that the police—nicknamed “Bobbies,” for Peel’s first name—had to behave respectfully, succeeding not through compulsion but through the willing cooperation of citizens. Bobbies traditionally didn’t carry firearms; when force was necessary, it was to be minimal. And the police were not the judiciary. Bobbies did not judge guilt or innocence, did not punish or avenge. “The police are the public,” Peel said, “and the public are the police.” Peel believed that the Met proved itself not by the number of criminals it caught but by the absence of crime.
In the United States, policing took shape along Peelian principles: cops walking the city beat deterred crime by their presence. They got to know the neighbors and the neighborhoods, which were more stable than they became after World War II. For years, many cops claimed that the most realistic police show on TV was Barney Miller because it showed the everyday neighborhood problems that most officers dealt with: homicides were rare, and few cops ever had cause to pull a gun. In New York City, you drew your weapon only in life-threatening situations, and, when you did, you shot to kill. The most common response to shooting a dangerous criminal was to vomit. But Barney Miller was an exercise in nostalgia. It was produced just as the system was changing.