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Council Approves Two-Year, $55,000 ‘Predictive Policing’ Software Contract

Mayor Levine wonders if money could be better spent elsewhere, but ultimately votes for program

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Township Councilman Phil Kramer (Ward 3), major proponent of predictive policing software.

Although Mayor Brian Levine wondered aloud whether the money could be better spent elsewhere, and at least one councilman was unsure of the contract’s term, the Township Council on Oct. 22 voted to spend $55,000 for software that is touted to allow police departments to “predict” where crime will occur.

The idea’s champion on the council, Councilman Phil Kramer (Ward 3), said Franklin was the first town in the state to purchase the software.

The two-year contract is with PredPol of Santa Cruz, Cal. The township voted to spend $30,000 for the first year – $25,000 for the software, and a one-time $5,000 setup fee – and $25,000 for the second year.

The software, also called PredPol – short for predictive policing – was developed by the company in conjunction with researchers at UCLA, UC Irvine and Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, Cal.

The software uses the same technology and algorithms used to predict earthquake aftershocks, according to the company’s Web site. The company claims that the software reduced crime in Santa Clara, Cal, by 19 percent in its first year of use.

In addition to Kramer, the program received enthusiastic reviews from township manager Bob Vornlocker, a former township police officer.

“It’s a tool used by our police officers,” he said. “It says if crime were to occur, it most likely would occur ion these areas.”

“It basically makes our police officers more efficient,” said Councilman Rajiv Prasad, (At-Large).

Still, Levine said, the program is “a little bit unproven.”

The expenditure, he said, “is not in our original budget. We’re taking $25,000 out of the manager’s discretionary fund. I don’t think I’m ready to oppose it, but I think we may have been better served to wait for the beginning of the year.”

“I’m not questioning the efficacy of it,” Levine said, “I don’t know enough about it. I’m just posing my concerns.”

Councilman James Vassanella (Ward 5), said he didn’t realize the contract was for two years.

“I thought this was a pilot program,” he said.

Turning to township attorney Louis Rainone, Vassanella asked if “after a year, if there was a reason we did not want to continue it, can we back out of the contract?”

“It’s a two-year contract,” Rainone said.

Councilman Brian Regan (At-Large) noted that because Franklin is the first town in the state to sign on, it could receive discounts from referrals to other towns.

According to the contract, the company is offering a 15 percent discount for the first three neighboring towns that sign up with the township. Township officials talked in the summer about generating interest in the program with New Brunswick, North Brunswick and South Brunswick.

The contract includes installation, training and support of the software.

The council voted unanimously for the contract, save for Councilman Ted Chase (Ward 1), who had temporarily left the dais.

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