The Philadelphia Predictive Policing Experiment is an ongoing collaboration between Temple University’s Center for Security and Crime Science (housed in the Department of Criminal Justice) and the Philadelphia Police Department. This National Institute of Justice funded research project has been the first place-based, randomized experiment to study the impact of different police strategies on violent and property crime in predicted criminal activity areas.

Predictive policing is an emerging tactic relying in part on software predicting the likely locations of criminal events. Predictive policing, while sometimes applied to offenders, is most frequently applied to high crime places. In this context, it involves ‘the use of historical data to create a spatiotemporal forecast of areas of criminality or crime hot spots that will be the basis for police resource allocation decisions with the expectation that having officers at the proposed place and time will deter or detect criminal activity’ [Ratcliffe, J. H. (2014). “What is the future… of predictive policing?” Translational Criminology, 2014 (Spring): 4-5 (definition on page 4)].

At present the law enforcement field lacks robust evidence to suggest the appropriate policing tactic in predicted areas. That is the subject of this timely study. The aim is to answer the question of whether different varieties of theoretically informed but also operationally realistic police responses to crime predictions estimated by a predictive policing software program can reduce crime.

The research team from Temple University and the Research and Analysis section of the Philadelphia Police Department randomly assigned 20 Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) districts into one of four experimental conditions. Five districts acted as controls, with a business-as-usual patrol strategy. In five districts, officers will be made aware of the predicted high crime activity area at roll call and asked to concentrate there when able (a simple awareness model). Five districts received the awareness model treatment as well as an additional patrol car solely dedicated to the predicted crime area. Finally, five districts received an intelligence-led, investigative response with an unmarked unit dedicated to the predicted area. The fieldwork ran from the spring of 2015 to the end of January 2016, and examined both property crime and violent crime. The predictive policing software employed was the HunchLab program designed by Azavea.

At present, the data are being analyzed. More information and results, when available will be posted here.

Policing predicted crime areas: An operationally-realistic randomized, controlled field experiment