Source: Tex Texin/CC BY 2.0Source: Tex Texin/CC BY 2.0As algorithms that help predict when and where a crime might occur gain a foothold in law enforcement agencies around the world, one of the first agencies to adopt the technology in England is now gaining notoriety for being one of the first to subsequently abandon it.

The Kent Police force has used predictive policing since 2013; officers called the software “really useful” for “proactive” policing. Using historical trends mingled with current data, the software, created by United States firm PredPol, made predictions about where crimes might occur.

Although reviews of the software have been mixed, with some suggesting that it was a challenge to determine with any degree of certainty that the software helped reduce crimes, most of the Kent police considered the technology useful.

However, the software is being abandoned thanks to a problem regularly plaguing law enforcement agencies the world over.

Kent Police Federation chairman Chris Carter explained that "officers have got less time to use it" due to increased crime and decreased resources.

"When I was a neighbourhood inspector it was really useful to me," Carter added.

"We deployed based on the information I was given from the system."

Similarly, Kent Superintendent John Phillips said the software "allowed officers to identify public spaces that would benefit from patrols."

"While it did not predict crime, it was used as a preventative tool and supported the force's focus at the time on neighbourhood policing," he added.

However, the department suggested that a new direction away from the technology would be taken.

"The launch of a new policing model that places victims and witnesses at its centre, has led Kent Police to evaluate alternative options which will support a focus on both traditional and emerging crime types."

Superintendent Phillips said that the software had a "good record of predicting where crimes are likely to take place," but added: "What is more challenging is to show that we have been able to reduce crime with that information."

First trialed in Medway in April 2013, the technology was credited with a 6% decrease in street violence during the trial period, which lasted four months.

Despite the success of that trial, however, crime rates increased in the first year of its use at Kent, though most agree that officers didn’t know how to correctly use the software in its early days of adoption.

As Kent prepares to abandon the technology, predictive policing algorithms are taking off elsewhere, particularly in tech-savvy Japan where predictive policing using artificial intelligence technology will be used ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

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