Published: 00:01, 13 February 2018
This year marks half a decade since predictive policing was launched in our county in a bid to pre-empt crimes using algorithms produced by revolutionary technology.
Predictive Policing is a computer programme that analyses data and calculates where crime is most likely to take place, and is used on a daily basis to help reduce the number of offences committed in an area.
It is reminiscent of the plot of 2002 Hollywood blockbuster Minority Report, set in the year 2054, where Washington DC’s PreCrime police stop murderers before they carry out their killings.
But in reality the computer-aided programme was introduced to Kent Police in December 2012 and resulted in a 6% reduction in street violence during a four-month trial in the north Kent division.
The programme was rolled out countywide in April 2013 and is still used today.
One incident that convinced officers was in Medway, when the sergeant asked his PCs to print off a map when they went out on patrol and, when they had a quiet moment, to drive to the red location box nearest to them, even if their local knowledge told them it wasn’t one of the usual crime hotspots.
That night, in an area they would not normally visit, they found a mother and her child in the street who had both been sexually assaulted.
The suspect was arrested nearby later that night.
Over last few years police have worked to develop crime fighting technology across the county but his work didn't begin in Kent, or even the UK - it started in Los Angeles back in 2012.
The head of the police department had heard about a new computer programme that was drastically cutting crime in some of the most dangerous neighbourhoods of LA.
The team - convinced the programme could work in Kent - immediately enlisted the help of American anthropologist Jeff Brantingham and began working with US-based company PredPol to tailor a system to be used here.
As the technology gets more sophisticated, officers can make sure they are in an area before something has even occurred, their presence alone stopping even the most brazen criminal from striking.
PredPol uses three data points; past type, and place and time of crime, to create a unique algorithm based on criminal behaviour patterns.
The software allows police forces across the world to tailor their system to their location.
When Kent Police began its predictive policing pilot in December 2012, it started by feeding data, including five years' worth of recorded crimes and three years of incidents of anti-social behaviour, into a computer.
A spokesman for the force said: "Kent Police are currently using PredPol as part of our patrol and crime reduction tactics.
"PredPol uses 5 years’ worth of previous crime and incident data, and utilising an advanced evidence based algorithm devised by academics in America, predicts locations where crimes are most likely to occur.
"We currently feed Burglary, criminal damage, antisocial behaviour and theft crimes through the algorithm, and it has been used effectively in specific targeted operations and in ensuring the best use of visible neighbourhood policing."
Crimes on the rise
Burglaries at homes in Maidstone have almost doubled over the last year, according to the latest recorded crime figures.
In the 12 months from October 2016 to September 2017 there were 529 household break-ins. There were 275 incidents recorded in the previous year.
The figures, from the Office for National Statistics, show a sharp increase of 92.4% but Kent Police’s Deputy Chief Constable says the figure has been shaped by a new method of recording offences.
While 12,998 crimes were reported in total from 2016 to 2017, DCC Brandon said: “The 28% increase in overall police recorded crime for the period October 2016 to September 2017 may seem concerning but it is important to put this into context.
“Our officers follow strict Home Office guidance when investigating and recording crime and many single crimes recorded previously are now recorded as multiple ones.
“For example, previously if four people were found fighting outside of a nightclub and it was not clear who was in the right or wrong, one report of affray would have been recorded whereas now four counter allegations of assault and one of affray could be recorded.”
The figures show that 78 out of every 1,000 residents experienced a crime during the year, slightly below the England and Wales average of 79.
In Maidstone one of the most high volume crimes, theft, has increased by 16% while drugs-related offences slightly dropped by 3.5%.
Criminal damage, which includes arson and vandalising cars and houses, has gone up from 1,445 incidents in 2015-2016, to 1,692 in the latest figures. Gun and knife possession offences have risen by 24 to 75 incidents.