My colleague, Steve Serrao, just published a blog post on the proliferation of varied law enforcement approaches and their related phraseologies. After reading, I concur – hence, this blog’s title. I am not a huge fan of the term “predictive policing”. While others may love it and live it, and I absolutely respect that, I have tried to remove it from my policing lexicon. (Wait – I used passé and lexicon in the same blog – that’s terrible).
One reason I dislike the term? Given I work with SAS – a leader in the use of analytics – on law enforcement topics, anytime anyone with whom I may be remotely affiliated with stumbles upon an article, blog, or Facebook post about predictive policing, it is matter of time before I am inundated with the forwarded article, blog, or Facebook post. While I appreciate information sharing, I get the concept!
And, no, I have never seen “Minority Report.”
So with the above as context, I do get the concept – I have been doing policing stuff for a while and have daily discussions with law enforcement thought leaders who really get policing stuff. We discuss policing at the policy level and operational level; we look at its strategic value and its tactical value; and, more importantly, we look at how policies, operations, strategies and tactics can best serve their respective constituents and communities- (and as an aside- think of the possibilities when all this is synchronized!). While we talk about a lot of important policing stuff, one thing we really never focus on – policing naming conventions.
This is not inconsistent with (forgetting my day job for a second) how I think and feel as a citizen. For example, as a citizen I want to know that my kids are as safe as possible walking to school; I want to know that speeding on the main thoroughfare is being addressed; and, I want to know my police department is doing everything possible to solve the spate of burglaries in my neighborhood. Never once as a citizen have I thought, “Wow, I really wish our police employed an intelligence-led (or predictive or community or neighborhood or information-led) policing approach.”
While as a professional, I understand and embrace the nuances, differences and complementary aspects of varying policing styles; however, as a citizen, those terms matter very little to me – and my guess is that they matter very little to most citizens. What is front of mind for citizens? My kids are safe, speeding is down, the burglar has been arrested, and if I call for help, help will arrive.
While I absolutely get the predictive policing concept, I also believe the term in and of itself sets an unreasonable (and sometimes unreachable) goal for many agencies – predicting where that next crime will occur. While I understand that is not the actual message, not fully understanding or articulating the concept and its limitations could lead to confusion and put the police and community at odds when a crime does occur.
While I have difficulty with the term, I believe that predictive analytics can help law enforcement in measurable and meaningful ways by improving service delivery and maximizing their abilities to do an already difficult job. Regardless of an agency’s policing strategy, or what it is called, predictive analytics has much to offer in helping police better protect and serve.