Not fiction: Miami looking to adapt 'pre-crime' fighting system

"It doesn’t replace actual police work. It’s policing with smarter technology," Miami Lt. Sean MacDonald said.

Doug G. Ware

MIAMI, April 23 (UPI) -- Hollywood made a movie about it 13 years ago, with Tom Cruise in the lead role, but the Miami Metro Police Department is planning to adopt a real-life "pre-crime" system -- a method to fight crime by predicting when and where it will happen.

The department is funding software called HunchLab with a $600,000 federal grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, in an effort to encourage smart police tactics, the Miami Herald reported. Thursday, city officials voted on a $120,000 contract with Florida International University to help evaluate the program and perform tests.


The notion is based on years of data and statistics that works to find crime patterns at geographic locations.

"It doesn't replace actual police work. It's policing with smarter technology," Lt. Sean MacDonald said.

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The idea of fighting crime before it happens might be concerning to some, and it even made an interesting plot for Hollywood fiction once. The 2002 science-fiction film Minority Report featured just such a system -- albeit involving far less realistic elements. In the film, the crimes were predicted by three semi-psychic prophet-like figures. But the very notion of anything similar to the film raises plenty of questions, ethical, moral and otherwise.


More than anything else, police say, the system seeks to prevent crimes like robberies, car thefts and home burglaries -- not murders, rapes or assaults. Advocates hope the method will allow police to focus attention on areas where the data-driven software indicates a higher probability that crimes will occur.

The notion seems to be at least somewhat effective. Across the country on the Pacific coast, authorities in Los Angeles use a program called PredPol -- for predictive policing -- and they say the results are encouraging. Property crimes, they say, have dropped with use of the program -- and they are now testing it on gun crimes.

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Atlanta police saw crime drop ten percent during a three month experiment with PredPol. And last month, Arizona lawmakers approved $1 million to develop predictive policing.

"We all thought it was somewhat hocus pocus and Minority Report," Atlanta Lt. LeAnne Browning said. "We could see if PredPol was predicting fairly well.

"It's kind of scary, because they were."

Miami police say HunchLab is basically an enhanced version of PredPol, because it adds other relevant elements to crime data -- like weather, social media and school calendars.

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