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Police to start new crime prevention program

CARLSBAD — The Carlsbad Police Department will be launching a one-year pilot program, using a predictive policing software designed to predict locations and times of day where crimes are most likely to happen, to improve policing strategies and ultimately reduce crime. 

“The department will pilot PredPol as a potential force multiplier, enabling officers to work smarter rather than harder,” according to the agenda bill that brought the pilot before City Council.

The software program, known as PredPol, uses mathematical algorithms to analyze historical crime data from recent years to produce maps of where there is a higher likelihood of crime, said Fiona Everett, a management analyst for the Carlsbad Police Department.

The Carlsbad Police Department will provide PredPol, also the name of the company that created and runs the software program, with three to five years of historical data and all current crime data as it is entered during the pilot.

PredPol will create and maintain maps where crime is more likely to occur in the city, and the police department will use the maps to deploy officers to specific areas in an effort to deter crime.

This will be the first time the department has used predictive crime software, Everett said.

While the police department studies patterns of crime locations and times, it has not utilized mathematical formulas to analyze the information more specifically.

“Our attempt at it is less sophisticated,” she said. “PredPol takes it up a notch.”

The utilization of the new software is at a time when the department is facing staffing challenges due to a high number of sworn officer retirements over the past year.

In 2012, 10 officers left the department, seven of whom retired, according to Everett. This year, two officers have retired so far and two have notified the department of plans to retire within the year.

The Carlsbad Police Department is budgeted to maintain 114 sworn officers on its force.

“We’re at this generational transition where we have a lot of officers with a long tenure who are reaching retirement age,” Everett said, explaining why the department has needed to replace more officers in 2012 and 2013 than it has had to in previous years.

Because officers are not obligated to give significantly advanced notice of retirement plans and the department does not have the budget to hire sworn officers in advance, the unusually high number of retirements has left the Carlsbad Police Department juggling multiple vacancies.

Currently the department has three vacancies and is working to find qualified candidates to fill the positions, Everett said.

However, some vacancies in the police force remain even after positions are filled if new recruits are hired.

New recruits must complete police academy and field training before being eligible to work independently as a patrol officer, a process that takes about one year, Everett said.

The Carlsbad Police Department has four officers still completing field training and three officers currently in the academy.

With the combined vacancies and officers still in field training and the academy, the department has 104 of its 114 sworn officer positions filled by fully trained patrol officers.

She said that in general it is difficult for police departments to anticipate officer turnover.

“All police officers don’t begin their careers at 20 (years-old) and retire promptly after 30 years,” she said.

She said that to try to avoid high numbers of retirements during the same time period, the department strives to hire officers with a variety of experience levels and different stages of their careers.

In its PredPol proposal to City Council, the police department stated, “Rather than focusing on only hiring new staff, the Carlsbad Police Department is looking at other ways to maintain high quality service levels in the community. One objective is to use technology as a force multiplier.”

The Carlsbad Police Department received a 2013 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant of $17,560 to pay for the software program.

City Council approved the acceptance of these grant funds as a consent item at its July 23 meeting.