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LAPD tries to predict crimes before they occur

August 21, 2010 |  1:17 pm

Lt. Sean Malinowski

The future of crime fighting begins with a story about strawberry Pop-Tarts, bad weather and Wal-Mart.

With a hurricane bearing down on the Florida coast several years ago, the retail giant sent supply trucks into the storm to stock shelves with the frosted pink pastries. The decision to do so had not been made on a whim or a hunch, but by a powerful computer that crunched reams of sales data and found an unusual but undeniable fact: When Mother Nature gets angry, people want to eat a lot more strawberry Pop-Tarts.

Officials in the Los Angeles Police Department are using the anecdote to explain a similar, but far more complicated, idea that they and researchers say could revolutionize law enforcement.

"As police departments have gotten better at pushing down crime, we are looking now for the thing that will take us to the next level," LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said. "I firmly believe predictive policing is it."

Predictive policing is rooted in the notion that it is possible, through sophisticated computer analysis of information about previous crimes, to predict where and when crimes will occur. At universities and technology companies in the U.S. and abroad, scientists are working to develop computer programs that, in the most optimistic scenarios, could enable police to anticipate, and possibly prevent, many types of crime. Read the full story here.

-- Joel Rubin

Photo: Lt. Sean Malinowski oversees the Los Angeles Police Department's crime analysis unit. He has spent years immersing himself in the world of predictive technology and has advised U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder on the subject. Credit Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

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