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Norcross PD fighting crime by predicting it

NORCROSS —With the help of new technology, the Norcross Police Department is now predicting where crimes are most likely to happen — and, thus far, doing it well.

On Friday, the department officially went live with PredPol predictive policing software, a cloud-based technology that, in (sort of) layman’s terms, uses police data, advanced mathematics and complex algorithms to determine small areas most likely to be the home to crime during a particular time window. Shortly after the software was put into action, officers were patrolling such an area and caught two burglars inside a residence.

Not bad for the first patrol by the Southeast’s first deparment using the technology.

“It was later determined that the two suspects were linked to several other burglaries in the city,” Lt. Bill Grogan said Wednesday. “Another officer caught a wanted man in a different predictive zone. The officer was there spending time because of the predictions.”

Grogan called the software “another tool,” but a good one. Accessible by officers via a secure Internet connection, it basically analyzes historical data the department already has — type of offense, date and time, location — in order to pinpoint 500-square-foot areas where crimes are most likely to occur on a daily basis.

The goal isn’t for officers to “spend the next 12 hours in that box,” Grogan said, but rather to spend 10 or 15 minutes there if they aren’t answering specific calls or otherwise occupied. The goal is primarily to intercede in preventable property crimes like burglary and vandalism.

“The men and women of the Norcross Police Department emabced the new technology the first day it was in use,” Chief Warren Summer said in a statement. “Already it had made an impact on crime in Norcross, and we look forward to making Norcross an even safer place to live and work.”

Grogan said that patrol officers weren’t shocked when they were initially shown PredPol’s hot spots; many were areas they were well acquainted with. But the depth of the information, which originally offered six boxes at a time and will soon move to eight, is where the difference is made.

“I may be able to tell you the three hottest areas in our city,” Grogan said, “but when I’m getting down to four, five, six, I’m guessing.”

PredPol was developed by Ph.D. mathmaticians, criminologists and social scientists who were working in conjunction with the Los Angeles and Santa Cruz police departments in California. Authorities there and in Seattle, among other places, have implemented the technology.

Grogan said he believed Atlanta police and others in the region were considering implementing it.