To Prevent Crime, Walk the Dog on At-Risk Blocks

By Conor Friedersdorf

Last summer, the press began reporting on a new law enforcement tactic, "predictive policing." A computer program analyzes all crime that occurs in an area and produces a map with boxes drawn around blocks where future crime is most likely. 

"Cops working with predictive systems respond to call-outs as usual, but when they are free, they return to the spots which the computer suggests," The Economist noted. "Officers may talk to locals or report problems, like broken lights or unsecured properties, that could encourage crime." The tactic coincided with a 12 percent reduction in property crime in one Los Angeles neighborhood.

The program is now coming to the Pacific Division, also known as my area of the city. And in an innovative twist, the LAPD has asked me to help out in problem spots.

The same request went out to all my neighbors. 

"LAPD Pacific Division wants to enhance the results of Predictive Policing to drive crime as low as possible," it stated:

In an effort to do this we are deploying as many resources as possible to the box areas. To further increase the effectiveness of Predictive Policing we are asking the public to spend any free time that you may have in these areas too. You can simply walk with a neighbor, exercise, or walk your dog in these areas and your presence alone can assist in deterring would be criminals from committing crime in your neighborhood.

Every day, they're going to release a new map via social media with an updated boxes so people know which cross-streets in their neighborhood need the most attention. 

This is a worthy experiment. 

Lots of Los Angeles is built in a way that reduces the presence of what Jane Jacobs would call "eyes on the street." Can this disadvantage be overcome with crowdsourcing? 

I'd change the route I take on dog walks to help out. And if lots of my neighbors do the same, it'll be a sign of civic health. We're all responsible for safeguarding our neighborhoods. 

The Los Angeles Police Department is often less transparent than it ought to be, as evidenced by its refusal to turn over information about its license plate scanner program. Angelenos would be furious if they knew how pervasively their vehicular comings and goings are recorded and stored by law enforcement. But the LAPD does praiseworthy things too. This latest example is a good illustration of how transparency can help law enforcement to improve public safety. And if the experiment works, needed eyeballs will be dispersed to at-risk areas without the use of Orwellian surveillance cameras being installed all over the neighborhood.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/03/to-prevent-crime-walk-the-dog-on-at-risk-blocks/359756/