Predictive policing helps crime fighters in San Mateo County 

click to enlarge San Mateo Police Department
  • 2008 S.f. Examiner File photo
  • The San Mateo Police Department and other law enforcement agencies on the Peninsula are using crime data to help find patterns and target problem areas.
In San Mateo County, police are not only responding to crime scenes, but they are trying to anticipate the places that might soon become one.

The strategy, called predictive policing, is being implemented across the county. It attempts to aggregate crime data in real time and identify emerging trends, then efficiently deploy resources to potential hot spots.

Police hope to deter and intercept would-be perpetrators before they have a chance to break the law.

“Every city up and down the Peninsula is having problems with property crimes,” said detective Sgt. Ryan Monaghan of the San Mateo Police Department. “We have detectives that are looking at all these crime trends.”

In a recent bust, the department’s Crime Reduction Unit studied the modus operandi of a local burglar.

“Once they get comfortable with a location, they hit that location more than once,” Monaghan said.

Extra patrols and plainclothes officers were deployed to an area near Seal Point Park in San Mateo where police thought the burglar might strike again. Before long, they had apprehended a suspect who was reportedly casing vehicles.

The San Mateo Police Department uses CompStat to aggregate and report on crime data. The agency has an in-house crime analyst whose job is to look at these reports and pick out interesting patterns.

Police leverage Facebook and Twitter to promote awareness and encourage community involvement. The department also uses CrimeReports.com to generate crime heat maps that residents can access and that officers can use to direct patrols.

“It benefits the agency because they’re able to show specifically what’s happening without doing an enormous amount of public outreach,” said William Kilmer, CEO of PublicEngines, the company behind CrimeReports.

The program also “uses advanced analytics and algorithms to look at short- and long-term trends. … What changes are short-term trends for seasonality, cyclicity, time of day, day of week,” Kilmer said.

Software that allows law enforcement to work smarter rather than harder, especially in times of widespread budget cuts, is being implemented across the Peninsula.

In Redwood City, police use RIMS, a records management program that collects information from their central database.

“We are able to use that as an analytical tool to map out crimes and crime trends,” Sgt. Greg Farley said. “It plots maps and graphs and spreadsheets.”

“This isn’t like this magic pie in the sky, it’s just using information that’s known to cops that used to take a much longer time to compile,” Monaghan said.

A new, sophisticated predictive software called PredPol, which claims it ditches “rear-view mirror policing and … tells law enforcement what is coming,” has found some early adopters in Los Angeles and Seattle.

In San Mateo County, agencies are open to using such products but need assurance that it will be worth the expense for a smaller department.

“Any way that we can use technology to improve the way we’re doing business, we’re always open to that,” Monaghan said. “We’re pretty progressive on that front.”

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S. Parker Yesko

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