Vancouver police rely on artificial intelligence to combat residential break-ins

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      The Vancouver Police Department has become the first force in Canada to implement predictive policing technology.

      Speaking to reporters yesterday, Chief Adam Palmer and special Cst. Ryan Prox explained how software using artificial intelligence is being used to address property crime.

      A new computer modelling system predicts locations where break-ins are likely to occur over two-hour periods.

      "Our officers can use this information to be proactive and take steps to try to prevent crime," Palmer said.

      The chief noted in his presentation that it's far easier to predict locations where break-ins are more likely than forecasting where violent crime might occur.

      In 2016, there were nearly six residential break-ins and more than seven commercial break-ins on average per day in Vancouver.

      Prox said that a six-month pilot project last year looked at break-in rates south of Broadway after data was fed into the system, analyzed by the software, and made available to patrol and community safety officers in the field.

      Two separate models were examined.

      In once instance, community safety officers implemented preventive measures within a 500-metre radius of the location where a higher risk of break-ins was predicted.

      In the other case, sworn police officers were dispatched within a 100-metre predictive zone that the system had identified was at a higher risk of break-ins.

      According to Prox, a 100-metre radius covers the territory of about four to five houses. He noted that this offers an opportunity to make effective use of police resources on a "granular level".

      "If we put police resources and [community safety officer] resources on four out of the six forecasts at every two-hour interval, we could prevent and interdict 74 percent of the crimes that would happen at that two-hour interval," Prox said.

      The study showed that using this approach, property crime was reduced 21 percent in May, 27 percent in June, and 26 percent in July over four-year averages in the city.

      Palmer said that this occurred even though property crime rates were rising in other parts of the Lower Mainland.

      "We implemented fully the predictive system last month and it's now integrated in our operations at VPD," Palmer said.

      He pointed out that if officers are dispatched where break-ins are anticipated, they sometimes spot known thieves in the area.

      According to the chief, police can then investigate whether these people are breaching bail conditions or other conditions by carrying tools that might be used for committing property crimes.

      Of course, if criminals see the police, they have a tendency to want to vanish from sight. And Prox acknowledged that some "displacement" occurs—i.e. criminals go to other areas to commit property crimes—when police resources are allocated to zones where break-ins are expected.

      However, he said the study showed that "the displacement was fewer in number and lower in intensity compared to what existed previously".