The Charleston Police Department has begun a pilot program in predictive policing, a technique that uses computer software to analyze crime data and predict where crimes are likely to happen next.

Chief Gregory Mullen announced Monday that the department had begun using a program from IBM to look at patterns of armed robberies across the city. Within the next year, Charleston will also be participating in a Cop Link program to share information with law enforcement officers in North Charleston, Mt. Pleasant, Charleston County, Horry County, and the S.C. Law Enforcement Division.

Predictive policing has had notable successes: Police in Memphis, Tenn., started using IBM’s software in 2005, and they claim a 30-percent reduction in serious crime and a 15-percent reduction in violent crime since 2006. And North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey has credited a similar program for the city’s reduction in homicide rates, saying police there have been analyzing crime dispatch patterns and beefing up patrols in problem areas for the past three years.

The IBM software pulls from a wide variety of sources, including crime reports, police dispatch records, video surveillance systems, geographic information systems, and weather databases. When it predicts that an area will likely be the site of armed robberies, police can beef up patrols in that area. Mullen says that in the future, the software could be used to prevent burglaries and even to coordinate emergency response efforts during and after hurricanes.

The pilot program is already in place, and while it comes at no cost to the city, if the police department decides to go with IBM’s full suite of analytics software, it will negotiate a contract with the company. It does not require the police department to hire any new employees, but police officers will be required to input their part of the data into the system.

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