Making Government Work

Want to Avoid L.A.’s Most Dangerous Streets? There’s a Map for That

April 1, 2014
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Want to Avoid L.A.’s Most Dangerous Streets? There’s a Map for That
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
The LAPD is crowd-sourcing city residents to troll and report on the riskiest intersections.

The story of Kitty Genovese’s murder in 1964 is practically American folklore — stabbed to death in a dark alley in Queens, N.Y., just outside the front door of her apartment building, with at least 30 neighbors within earshot. Intense media coverage focused on this last part, examining the bystander effect and why she died, despite dozens of nearby witnesses.

Stories like these are painful reminders that the most gruesome crimes can happen in broad daylight or with countless others present. So what can happen on far less populated blocks?

As Atlantic Cities writer Conor Friedersdorf writes, Los Angeles is void of what the late Jane Jacobs, an urban theorist, would call “eyes on the street.” L.A.’s design — spread out and dominated by highways — drastically reduces sidewalk populations that could deter, if not at least bear witness to, crimes.

But the Los Angeles Police Department is actively exploring ways to combat this inherent city problem. A new law enforcement tactic called “predictive policing” involves a computer program that analyzes all crime that occurs in an area and produces a map with boxes drawn around blocks where future illegal acts are most likely to occur. Each day, cops release a new map via social media with updated boxes so people know which cross-streets in their neighborhood need the most attention. A community-driven initiative like this allows cops to better plan their focus their attention.

“Cops working with predictive systems respond to call-outs as usual, but when they are free, they return to the spots which the computer suggests,” The Economist noted when the plan first came to light last summer. “Officers may talk to locals or report problems, like broken lights or unsecured properties, that could encourage crime.” And it works: The tactic coincided with a 12 percent reduction in property crime in one Los Angeles neighborhood.

Friedersdorf wrote about the expansion of his program; he and his neighbors received a message from the LAPD, which stated:

“In an effort to do this we are deploying as many resources as possible to the box areas. To further increase the effectiveness of Predictive Policing we are asking the public to spend any free time that you may have in these areas too. You can simply walk with a neighbor, exercise, or walk your dog in these areas and your presence alone can assist in deterring would be criminals from committing crime in your neighborhood.”

Unsurprisingly, Friedersdorf is eager to do whatever it takes to make his neighborhood within L.A.’s Pacific Division safer. “I’d change the route I take on dog walks to help out,” he writes. “And if lots of my neighbors do the same, it’ll be a sign of civic health. We’re all responsible for safeguarding our neighborhoods.”

Though city governments can often cause frustration, this attempt to galvanize citizens to pursue safety can also increase cooperation between Los Angelenos and their governing bodies. “This latest example is a good illustration of how transparency can help law enforcement to improve public safety,” Friedersdorf writes. “And if the experiment works, needed eyeballs will be dispersed to at-risk areas without the use of Orwellian surveillance cameras being installed all over the neighborhood.”

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