PM From Fallujah to the San Fernando Valley

12/10/21, 3:01 PM From Fallujah to the San Fernando Valley, Police Use Analytics to Target “High-Crime” Areas… 1/11
From Fallujah to the San
Fernando Valley, Police Use
Analytics to Target “HighCrime” Areas
Ali Winston ( & Darwin
BondGraham (,
March 12, 2014
T R E N D I N G :
12/10/21, 3:01 PM From Fallujah to the San Fernando Valley, Police Use Analytics to Target “High-Crime” Areas… 2/11
In an article in the November 2009 issue of Police Chief
Magazine, the Los Angeles Police Department’s Chief of
Detectives Charlie Beck asked his fellow law enforcement
leaders, “What can we learn from Walmart and Amazon about
fighting crime
in a recession?”
(Photo: Alex Thompson / Flickr)
([email protected]/3379987729/in/photolist-69FjAv-69Fk3r69FkLX-69FnXn-69KsHL-69KtY7-69KuHh-69KwLh-69Kxp9-69KyV9-6aEJb9-6drcJV-6mafeo6w3v43-6xoohB-6xA72S-6ymseb-6ACQav-6BQ73K-6EHre9-6LzZJY-6MvQAr-6NYv51-
12/10/21, 3:01 PM From Fallujah to the San Fernando Valley, Police Use Analytics to Target “High-Crime” Areas… 3/11
The answer Beck offered was “predictive policing,” a new hightech method by which police crunch crime statistics and other
data with algorithms to divine when and where future crimes
are most likely to occur. Beck wrote that it was an example of
police following in the footsteps of tech-savvy corporate
America: “Specific tactics and techniques to execute the
predictive-policing model can be found in business analytics.
E-commerce and marketing have learned to use advanced
analytics in support of business intelligence methods designed
to anticipate, predict and effectively leverage emerging trends,
patterns and consumer behavior.”
Since then, predictive policing has become a media darling.
Hundreds of stories have been written on the use of computer
models to predict and prevent crime. Police departments from
Seattle to London have been profiled using computer prediction
and mapping tools to apprehend suspects and saturate highcrime “hot spots” with officers.
However, the media coverage to date has missed the military
origins of predictive policing. Far from being a transfer of
technology and Big Data advances spawned by corporate
America, the predictive policing software used by many cities
actually originates in US military-funded research to track
insurgents and predict civilian casualties in war zones such as
Iraq and Afghanistan. Critics say the little-known origins of
predictive policing reveal the biases of the technology and
methods, and worry that it represents a further militarization
of America’s police.
12/10/21, 3:01 PM From Fallujah to the San Fernando Valley, Police Use Analytics to Target “High-Crime” Areas… 4/11
UCLA’s Military Research Labs
In May of 2006, years before the Los Angeles Police Department
began experimenting with predictive policing technology, UCLA
professors Andrea Bertozzi and Jeffery Brantingham obtained a
US Army Research Office grant to apply statistical modeling to
various military problems. On Professor Bertozzi’s UCLA
website, the grant is titled “Spatio-temporal event pattern
recognition,” a somewhat benign-sounding project
( To
the US Army, it is titled “spatio-temporal nonlinear filtering
with applications to information assurance and
Other grants to study counterterrorism and insurgency
followed. Over the next several years, UCLA professor Jeffrey
Brantingham and his graduate students, and a postdoc
researcher named George Mohler, reported back to the Army
about how their research findings might be applied to warfare.
They modeled patterns of “civilian deaths in Iraq” and
“terrorist and insurgent activities,” publishing their findings in
several academic journals.
“One of the goals is to develop a probabilistic framework for
detecting and tracking covert activities of hostile agents,” the
UCLA researchers wrote about their projects. “This framework
will include an algorithmic toolkit for detecting and tracking
hostile activities, methodology for analyzing properties of
those algorithms, and theoretical models that will address the
general question of trackability.”
12/10/21, 3:01 PM From Fallujah to the San Fernando Valley, Police Use Analytics to Target “High-Crime” Areas… 5/11
In a presentation last year to the Air Force Research Laboratory,
another military agency funding the UCLA professors,
Brantingham talked about the “hybrid threats” of
“radicalization and adversarial psychology,” which leads to
“adversarial activity patterns” and ultimately to “hostile
events.” Slides accompanying Brantingham’s presentation
showed Afghan men and other Arab or Muslim men with their
faces wrapped in scarves, gathered around a cache of automatic
rifles. Brantingham’s presentation also included images of
Latino youths in Los Angeles, labeled “gang members.”
In a 2009 report to the US military, the UCLA researchers made
direct comparisons between enemy combatants, called
“insurgents” or “terrorists,” and populations in the United
States they defined as “gang members.” UCLA’s Brantingham
and Bertozzi explained that the algorithms they developed for
the US military were going to be applied in Los Angeles,
“Working with LAPD, we are developing novel algorithms for
detecting changes in status of high-crime neighborhoods using
a combination of statistical and spatial models developed in this
program. Development and implementation of quantitative
change-point detection and particle-filtering techniques will
provide the Army with a plethora of new data-intensive
predictive algorithms for dealing with insurgents and terrorists
LAPD Rolls Out Predictive Policing
12/10/21, 3:01 PM From Fallujah to the San Fernando Valley, Police Use Analytics to Target “High-Crime” Areas… 6/11
In 2010, LAPD received a $3 million grant from the National
Institute of Justice to develop “intelligence-led policing”
practices, including crime-prediction methods. In conjunction
with the Los Angeles Police Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit
that channels private money to LAPD, (53 percent of which goes
to technology purchases), LAPD entered into a research
agreement with UCLA professor Brantingham to test their
predictive algorithms on property crimes
( in
LAPD’s Foothill Division in the San Fernando Valley.
By 2012, officers patrolling the 46-square-mile Foothill
Division were receiving daily printouts of maps with 500-by500-foot square boxes identified by Brantingham’s algorithms
as the 20 zones where crime was supposedly most likely to
occur. The predictions were based on six years worth of geolocated crime reports.
LAPD believes their predictive policing program has made a real
impact on crime by helping officers do their jobs and reducing
crime rates in areas where the algorithm is used.
“This program is not the panacea,” said Captain Jorge
Rodriguez, one of the commanders of the Foothill Division.
“It’s like a big wide net we cast out into the ocean; there’s going
to be some seepage.” However, he said, the historical crime
data used to generate the predictions provides more than
enough justification to allocate officers to sit on that location –
a luxury the LAPD can afford by dint of the department’s budget
and manpower.
12/10/21, 3:01 PM From Fallujah to the San Fernando Valley, Police Use Analytics to Target “High-Crime” Areas… 7/11
The one-year predictive policing pilot in Foothill Division
ended in January 2013, with an evaluation of the program’s
effectiveness. According to Rodriguez, the analysis showed that
Foothill Division led the LAPD’s other patrol areas in crime
reductions for every week in 2012. Since then, LAPD has
restarted the predictive policing initiative in Foothill Division
and expanded it to two more patrol sectors.
Militarized, Racialized Police Technologies
While LAPD and other police departments have praised the
results of their initial experimentation with predictive policing,
the method’s military origins and undetermined efficacy have
come under fire from some activists and academics. Many
worry that it is simply an extension of existing police practices
that unjustly target people of color, albeit this time under the
guise of objective technology.
Whitney Richards-Calathes, a doctoral candidate at the City
University of New York who is studying predictive policing, said
that predictive policing in Los Angeles has its conceptual
origins in the controversial “broken windows” theory
championed by former LAPD chief William Bratton. Under
broken-windows policing, officers are encouraged to
aggressively police small crimes and even simply examples of
disorder. “Predictive policing works on this notion of broken
windows. It is technology that predicts these minor offenses,
like burglary or auto theft,” Richards-Calathes said. “There is
12/10/21, 3:01 PM From Fallujah to the San Fernando Valley, Police Use Analytics to Target “High-Crime” Areas… 8/11
no evidence that it is an effective technology for murders, and
of course, it is not a technology marketed to hit much more
serious issues such as white-collar crime.”
Richards-Calathes points out that a large part of determining
policing strategy is determining the definition of a crime and
which crimes deserve attention. “The most over-policed crimes
are offenses that are believed to be committed by people of
color,” she said.
Richards-Calathes also noted that UCLA professor Brantingham
has monetized his research on predictive policing in the form of
PredPol Inc., a for-profit company that is marketing a
proprietary crime-prediction computer program to municipal
police departments as a solution to reduced staffing
( during a time of
fiscal constraint.
In 2012, Brantingham and UCLA postdoc George Mohler, who
had by then joined the faculty of Santa Clara University in
Silicon Valley, and a team of businessmen from Santa Cruz,
California, incorporated Predpol. Over the next two years, they
signed up cities including Seattle, Richmond, California, and
Columbia, South Carolina, for their cloud-accessed, crimeprediction software. The contracts average over $100,000 each.
According to Richards-Calathes, the testing of experimental
technologies on low-income communities of color reflects a
deepening of the prison-industrial complex. “City, state, and
12/10/21, 3:01 PM From Fallujah to the San Fernando Valley, Police Use Analytics to Target “High-Crime” Areas… 9/11
federal agencies as well as corporations make money, and the
technologies are implemented in immigrant, poor,
communities of color because these are places that are seen as
low in political clout and these are places branded as
‘dangerous’ and ‘criminal,’ labels that make it seem as if
residents are deserving of such surveillance, monitoring and
Hamid Khan, an organizer with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition,
has closely studied LAPD’s surveillance and informationgathering techniques. He views predictive policing as “a
feedback loop of injustice” that has dubious efficacy, since the
algorithms used by LAPD rely on reported crime data in lowincome neighborhoods.
“There’s a clear bias that is inherent because it can only predict
the information that is being uploaded,” said Khan. “In other
words, it’s garbage in, garbage out.” According to Khan, the
reliance on historical crime data skews police presence toward
low-income neighborhoods that are already saturated with
“The way the model works is previous crime data is put into
these computer algorithms that can predict future crime,”
Khan said. “This is low-level survival crime, so the same
neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods, predominantly nonwhite
communities, people of color.”
12/10/21, 3:01 PM From Fallujah to the San Fernando Valley, Police Use Analytics to Target “High-Crime” Areas… 10/11
In addition to the racialized aspect of crime prediction, Khan is
also disturbed by the increasing reliance of police on business
analytics and algorithms. Setting aside the element of profit for
private companies that make such software, Khan warns that
predictive policing has the potential to invert core principles of
“In essence, the principle that has been held for the longest
time – of innocent until proven guilty – has now been turned
onto its head because now we’re all guilty until proven
innocent.” Khan said.
Ali Winston (
Ali Winston covers law enforcement, criminal justice and
surveillance. His reporting has won awards from the
National Association of Black Journalists, the New York City
Community Media Alliance, CUNY-John Jay and People
United for a Better Life in Oakland. Originally from New
York City, he is a graduate of the University of Chicago and
the University of California-Berkeley.
Darwin BondGraham
12/10/21, 3:01 PM From Fallujah to the San Fernando Valley, Police Use Analytics to Target “High-Crime” Areas… 11/11
Darwin Bond-Graham is a sociologist who splits his time
between New Orleans, Albuquerque, and Navarro, CA.

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