82 % of burglaries in Germany in 2017 remain unsolved.
The Bavarian State Criminal Police Office also relies on predictive policing. After a feasibility study in 2014 and 2015, the authority introduced “Precobs,” a software solution reminiscent of the three psychics from Minority Report: the Precogs. This forecasting software is also used in Baden-Württemberg: Since September 2017, the second phase of a pilot project has been running in Stuttgart and Karlsruhe, which started in 2015.
In contrast to the LKA NRW, the forecasts of Precobs are based only on recorded offenses. According to a report by Ulrike Heitmüller on heise.de, socio-demographic data would not have significantly improved the forecasts. The program uses predefined crime scene, target, and action criteria to assess whether another break-in could occur soon in the same area. Experienced police officers would come to similar if-then decisions – the program is only faster, writes Dominik Gerstner of the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law in an evaluation of the first project phase with Precobs in Baden-Württemberg. If a break-in is detected that could be part of a series, the police officers who operate the program receive an alert.
The state police departments in Berlin, Lower Saxony, and Hesse use self-developed predictive policing programs. Other federal states such as Hamburg and Rhineland-Palatinate are considering introducing such a system. The states regularly exchange information with each other and with the Federal Criminal Police Office. Germany has not yet used predictive policing at the federal level and does not plan any such systems.
The federal government confirmed this in April 2018 in an answer to a minor inquiry from the Free Democratic Party. This means that Germany’s law enforcement officers are nowhere near their US counterparts in terms of technology and coverage, whose methods are more reminiscent of the Wild West.
2011 marked the very first time a computer program in Santa Cruz, California sent police patrols to areas where burglaries and car thefts were expected that day. The “Predpol” software is a development of Santa Clara University and the University of California Los Angeles. Today, US cities such as Atlanta, Richmond, and Seattle are using the solution, and Kent in the UK is also relying on Predpol. The system now even predicts armed violence, personal injury, drug-related crime, and bicycle theft – without using personal information.
117,000 attempted and successful residential burglaries reported to the police in 2017 in Germany
In Germany, the state criminal police are restrained when it comes to the success rate, even though burglaries fell in the Bavarian, North Rhine-Westphalian, and Hessian test areas after the clever police oracle was introduced. But it is difficult to say whether the respective predictive policing system is responsible for any of the other prevention measures or whether the perpetrators are simply behaving differently. “Success cannot be claimed based on just one factor alone,” explains the project manager for the Bavarian test area, Günter Okon, to heise.de. “The control concepts, especially in the area of home burglary, are very complex and multifaceted.”
The Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law in Freiburg draws a conclusion in its analysis of the Precobs project in Stuttgart and Karlsruhe: The crime-reducing effects of predictive policing in the pilot project are probably only moderate. The study’s author, Gerstner, points out its limited scope, however, occurring only over a short period of six months and in two pilot areas. The recently published final report on the LKA NRW project draws a positive conclusion: “The probability of burglary in selected forecast areas is often three to four times higher than in other residential areas of a police district.”
How predictive policing will continue to evolve remains to be seen. What it certainly should not be, however, Philip K. Dick knew 60 years ago: an inscrutable system that orders people to be arrested before they have even committed a crime.