Study Claims Predictive Policing Doesn’t Work Too Well

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Predictive policing—the trendy law enforcement field that uses data collection and analysis to try to predict where crimes will occur—has been wildly popular with police departments across the country. Unfortunately, though some cops swear by it, there hasn’t always been a ton of evidence that the tech actually works that well. In fact, a new study, released this week, seems to suggest that—for one community at least—it’s been pretty much a total waste of time.

A new joint investigation by The Markup and Wired shows that, for the city of Plainfield, New Jersey, predictive policing has been a giant, expensive mess—one that produced almost zero helpful results.

Both outlets looked into a large dataset provided by Plainfield PD that involved some 23,631 predictions made by Geolitica, a crime prediction software. Geolitica (which was previously called PredPol but rebranded two years ago) claims to use “data-driven strategies” to help police identify so-called “hot spots”—places where crime is most likely to occur. However, the dataset provided by the Plainfield PD showed that—during a roughly ten-month period, between Feb. 25 to Dec. 18, 2018—the software accurately predicted where crimes would occur with a “less than half a percent” success rate.

Captain David Guarino, of the Plainfield Police Department, seems to have been pretty upfront about the software’s shortcomings. He told The Markup:

“Why did we get PredPol? I guess we wanted to be more effective when it came to reducing crime. And having a prediction where we should be would help us to do that. I don’t know that it did that…I don’t believe we really used it that often, if at all. That’s why we ended up getting rid of it.”

Gizmodo and The Markup previously collaborated on an investigation into Predpol’s software, finding that cops used it to disproportionately targeted low-income communities of color.

We reached out to Geolitica for comment on the recent study’s findings and will update this story if we receive a response. Wired previously reported that the company is planning to cease operations at the end of this year; some of its team have already been hired by a different law enforcement company.

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