Collaboration in Civic Spheres

“Police Legitimacy And Predictive Policing”

by March 25th, 2011

SUMMARY: Writing for a publication of the U.S. Justice Department, the Chief of Police of Lincoln, Neb. warns that modern mapping and data analysis techniques which let police pinpoint likely crime hot spots and perpetrators should not be used as a pretext for overly aggressive policing because it heightens perceptions of bias and profiling. Instead, he says, so-called “predictive policing” tools should be used to help police pinpoint areas ripe for joint interventions in the social environment by public sector and community actors. These could include addressing chronic truancy, litter, graffiti, broken infrastructure and the need for expanded hours and programs at public recreational facilities and libraries.


  • The author writes that geographic information systems and analysis of digitally-stored data have given police new and ever-more granular insights into patterns underlying crime and disorder. Police can identify the homes, workplaces and treatment centers of statistically-likely future offenders such as parolees, probationers and registered sex offenders, and can identify locales of other likely offenders such as chronic truants, unemployed young men and gang members.
  • The author states that one potential response is “hot spot” policing employing traditional approaches such as saturation patrols, high-profile arrest-warrant sweeps, zero-tolerance enforcement and field interrogations. But this approach, he warns, is “filled with ethical trapdoors” and raises the scepter of profiling by age, race and other factors, which undermines community trust in police.
  • The question then arises, how can predictive policing tools be used constructively but in a way that doesn’t erode police legitimacy?

KEY LINK: “Police Legitimacy and Predictive Policing,” Geography And Public Safety, March, 2011; National Institute of Justice, and Community Oriented Policing Services, U.S. Justice Department. Author: Tom Casady, Chief of Police, Lincoln, Neb.


  • Where data analysis identifies specific locations or individuals likely to give rise to crime, police need “to create strategies that change the conditions of the potential crime environment.” These might include finding ways to effectively address chronic litter, truancy, or the density and operations of liquor license holders.
  • Areas with a high prevalence of crime often would benefit from more recreational, youth sports and mentor programs, and community organizing.
  • Crime-prone areas also should get priority status in the distribution of limited city funds for parks maintenance, curb repair, code enforcement, graffiti removal, and expanded hours at public swimming pools and libraries.
  • By working with community stakeholders to develop “mutual trust to work for the common good of the neighborhood,” police can avoid schisms and enhance their legitimacy, an objective which should be just as great a priority as crime prevention and law enforcement.


National Institute of Justice, Recent Publications

One Response to ““Police Legitimacy And Predictive Policing””

  1. So because making sure areas prone to crime don’t have a lot of cops (’cause this might give off a whiff of “profiling”)even though it just might prevent crime, municipalities are supposed to spend more on public service and recreational activities in those areas. Yes, that’ll prevent crime, about like applying leaches cured disease.