Birmingham police getting 3 more years with crime-predicting software

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The Birmingham city council voted Tuesday to ext3end the city’s contract with a company that provides a software designed to predict where crime will happen.

The software is called PredPol, an abbreviation of predictive policing. It uses existing crime data to help police anticipate where a crime might happen, so they can decide where to increase their presence. For example, if criminal activity is common in a certain place at a certain time, the software will recommend an officer presence at that place and time.

Hunter Williams, chair of the city council’s public safety committee, says it’s a data-based approach to determining what areas officers should patrol.

“It’s a way for us to use the data that we already collect through incidents and offense reports and give an officer and guestimate about where he or she should be at that point in their shift,” Williams said.

Agreeing to a three-year contract extension, the Birmingham Police Department has already been using the software for about two years as part of a bigger initiative to reduce crime. Williams said rape and sexual assault numbers have gone down 60% in the last year, while aggravated robbery and assault have gone down about 25%. He believes PredPol has played a small role in that success, and that’s part of the reason the city is considering extending the contract.

“If our police leadership says this is something that’s effective, and this is something where we can use the data that we already have in a productive way, it’s something that I think the leadership of Birmingham wants to be behind,” Williams said.

PredPol has been at the center of controversy in at least one other city. In Los Angeles, some groups reportedly had concerns that it led to the unfair targeting of minority neighborhoods. Williams said he has not heard of concerns anywhere else.

“I acknowledge that the city of Los Angeles has had concerns about this,” he said. “But the city of Birmingham is not the city of Los Angeles. A lot of times, when people look at policing, and they see different things that different police departments are doing, they try to compare it to places that are vastly different. I assure you that securing the city of Los Angeles looks very different than securing the city of Birmingham.”

The Los Angeles Times reported in April that the Los Angeles Police Department had discontinued the use of PredPol not because of complaints, but because of budget constraints resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

Williams said other agencies in Jefferson County also use the software.


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