Cops' crime crystal ball

LIBBY WILSON
Last updated 05:00 18/07/2014
Waikato police
BRUCE MERCER/ Fairfax NZ

CRIME SCIENCE: Waikato district deployment manager Inspector Jeff Penno and Senior Sergeant Rupert Friend with some of the tools of the Prevention First policing system. 

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Police are using predictive computer software to identify the scene of a potential crime and prevent it occurring.

The scheme is part of the national Prevention First strategy written by new Waikato district commander Bruce Bird, which has seen the Waikato's reported crime rate drop 14 per cent since December 2011.

The target was 13 per cent fewer recorded crimes than in the 2008-09 fiscal year, Bird said.

"So far we have achieved a 7 per cent reduction, but when you look at how we were originally sitting, at 7 per cent over [2008-09 levels], we are tracking pretty well," he said.

"Preventing crime is actually about looking at problems and working to solve them, and this will be a clear focus for the future." The strategy led to the formation of a district command centre, where crime patterns are analysed and mapped out on a massive computer screen.

Officers have been issued iPhones and iPads so they can do paperwork without trekking back to base.

"[They] aren't just phones but are linked to the police computer, transforming each patrol car into a mobile police station," Bird said.

And Waikato district deployment manager Inspector Jeff Penno said crime wasn't random.

"Therefore there's a pattern. Therefore it's predictable." Tools in the Hamilton district command centre (DCC) allow police to find those patterns and plan the response. Most of the Waikato is displayed over four screens, and patrol cars, troublesome intersections, foot patrols and burglary hot-spots are across it.

Keeping watch is a senior officer and an intelligence professional who can provide real-time information.

The data-crunching - and information from the public - helps police find what they call "gold nuggets" for preventing crime.

"Twenty-four per cent of our calls for service are suspicious cars or driving complaints. Now in those has to be gold nuggets. There has to be our next burglary, our next theft, our next car crash, our next drunk driver," Penno said.

"So our intelligence focuses on those real-time jobs coming in . . . And then we're trying to find the one in 10 that's gold - that links to a known offender or a known drunk driver, or an area where we've had other suspicious behaviour or burglaries previously."

Recently a pattern of burglaries and thefts from cars emerged in two areas where it hadn't previously been a problem, said Senior Sergeant Rupert Friend - one of the officers who mans the Hamilton DCC. The problem areas were pinpointed, target times established, and staff were sent in to stop cars at checkpoints or take a police dog for a walk.

"If you're a burglar and you're walking down the street, looking for an easy opportunity, and there's two policemen standing there, are you going to break into the house in front of them?" Friend said.

Multiple dishonesty crimes had been popping up in those areas, but there were none for the next four days, Friend said.

Provisional figures from Bird show home burglaries tracking at 19 per cent below the previous five-year average. They also showed decreases in the number of serious assaults, thefts from schools and businesses, and stolen vehicles.

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And there had been a 78 per cent increase in prevention tasks like patrolling and working with partner agencies to develop responses for problem areas.

Prevention was a change in mentality, Friend said.

Success was no longer catching a burglar climbing out the window.

"We don't want them to get in the door in the first place."

And deploying police staff is easier now the DCC can get staff details across the region - from rosters to training and equipment details - at the touch of a button.

About 35 per cent of calls in the district relate to just 4 per cent of the area, Penno said.

So knowing crime patterns helps allocate scarce police resources.

There are already multiple examples where information from the public or digging by intelligence staff helped prevent crime.

One was finding party plans on social media so officers could check in early. Another was a noise control complaint in Claudelands, which tipped police off to an upcoming concert they hadn't known about.

Town was busy early, so police officers were put on bridges punters would cross on their way.

"Within quarter of an hour they [officers] were saying ‘Actually, can we have a couple more staff down here? Because we've got quite a few drunk people . . . we actually want to talk to'," Friend said.

"Later on that night, we had no issues at that concert, no issues with people coming and going. But it's because we were there, engaging with them on their way to the concert." libby.wilson@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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