Township exploring ‘predictive policing’

Program said to cut crime and save money in California cities

Could township police one day “predict” where crime is going to happen?

Representatives from PredPol, the company that has developed software it claims can predict crime, have met with several township officials and others, including Chief of Police Lawrence W. Roberts, have viewed a Web-based presentation on the product.

The meetings were held at the suggestion of Township Councilman Phillip Kramer, who told his fellow council members at the August meeting about Predpol, or predictive policing, a computer-based system which claims to have reduced crime in Santa Cruz, Ca. by 19 percent in its first year of use.

Predpol is “built upon the same underlying technology used to predict aftershocks following earthquakes,” according to its Web site. The program was developed over six years by a team of “Ph.D. mathematicians and social scientists at UCLA, Santa Clara University, and UC Irvine in close collaboration with crime analysts and line level officers at the Los Angeles and Santa Cruz Police Departments,” according to the Web site.

Kramer told the council that the program’s yearly cost, about $25,000 after a $5,000 start-up fee, is well worth it.

“It’s a relatively small amount to pay, in  my opinion,” he said.

“This is simply not spot data,” he said. “This uses recent statistics and mathematical models to make predictions of where crime will be. Sometimes it predicts crime where no crime has been before.”

Kramer said that if the township could use the program with New Brunswick, North Brunswick and South Brunswick, the cost could be reduced to $17,500 a year.

By way of comparison, Kramer said, a starting township police officer’s annual salary is $30,000.

“I’m not saying use this instead of police officers,” he said. “You still need  police. I’m trying to put it into perspective.”

Kramer said the program is “something that could improve the quality of life in town.”

Kramer asked that Township Manager Robert G. Vornlocker and Chief Roberts “arrange a meeting” with Predpol representatives.

Vornlocker said that he and Roberts had viewed a Web-based presentation on the program, and that a meeting with PredPol representatives was held Aug. 28 among himself, several council members and a person from the township’s IT department.

The software is “very, very interesting, very new,” said Vornlocker, a former township policeman. “I don’t know how well it’s been tested yet, but it’s kind of a neat idea.”

Roberts, through a statement, said the department is researching the software.

“The Franklin Township Police Department’s mission is to ensure the safety and security of our residents,” Roberts said in the statement. “We are currently researching if such software would be a useful tool to the department.  Keeping budgetary concerns in mind, my staff is constantly researching and evaluating new tools to make our officers more effective.”

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