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MPD's "Heat Mapping" Aims to Predict Where Crime Will Happen

Using the past to predict where crimes are going to happen in the future, it's the idea behind heat-mapping, a new part of the Memphis Police Department's Blue Crush.
MEMPHIS, TN - Using the past to predict where crimes are going to happen in the future, it's the idea behind heat-mapping, a new part of the Memphis Police Department's Blue Crush. Before the crimes happen, MPD puts officers on the streets in hot spots to try to prevent them from happening.

Crime mapping has been around for a while, but Memphis Police are taking it's precision to a whole new level and putting it to work. So far, they say they've seen big results.

“We're operating on the theory that the past is the best predictor of the future,” said John Harvey with the MPD’s Real Time Crime Center.

Computer screens or crystal balls? Maps like these are helping Memphis cops crack down on crime. What looks like a weather map actually shows-off a different kind of storm.

“You're seeing heat there, and it tells you I've got a problem, we've got a lot of crime going on here,” Harvey said.

Before, crime maps were blocks of color. Check out ward 123, and the whole block looked out of control. But now cops can head straight to the problem or the people behind the problems.

“If you’re getting a lot of crime there, then you want to check and see people who have done this in the past,” said Harvey.

Parolees, sex offenders, repeat offenders, guys like this one.

“He's been to jail 175 times,” Harvey said as he displayed the man’s mug shot on the computer screen.

He'll get a knock on the door and see a heightened police presence.

“We'll welcome you if you want to be a good citizen,” said Harvey. “But if you don't want to be a good citizen, we're here to let you know that we're watching.”

But is it an extreme case of profiling? Or big brother on steroids?

“It's really a no-brainer,” said Harvey. “The people who have been committing the crimes are the ones who are going to be committing the crimes.”

Creators say the high-tech numbers game is getting results, but the men and women in blue deserve the credit.

“It's real officers doing real things,” said U of M Criminologist Dr. Richard Janikowski. “The data simply helps focus on where you might put those officers, but it's people that make the difference.”

Expect to see a lot more cutting edge crime techniques coming out of the Real Time Crime Center, including an ankle monitoring system for people out on bond.

The MPD started using heat-mapping this summer during Operation Blue Heat. In three weeks, Janikowski says they arrested 1,500 people.
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