Birmingham PD Adds High-Tech Tools To Its Crime-Fighting Arsenal

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By Sam Prickett

The Birmingham Police Department will soon have two new high-tech crime-fighting tools at its disposal. On Tuesday, the Birmingham City Council approved nearly $75,000 for two law enforcement software systems, PredPol and Assisted Patrol Bait Systems, which are designed to increase patrol efficiency and crack down on repeat offenders, respectively.

The city will spend $59,900 on the Santa-Cruz, California-based PredPol, a software that uses machine learning to calculate times and locations where crimes are more likely to occur. It’s a program that Police Chief Patrick D. Smith has mentioned repeatedly since taking office in June. In January, he told BirminghamWatch that enacting the program would be one of his priorities for 2019.

“We can start breaking down what we need to do, where our patrol cars need to be to reduce crime, and also we can break it down by beat, in terms of how much presence we need to have in a certain area to drive down crime,” Smith said. “This will address us from a historical perspective of where we need to go, of where (crimes) have occurred, but also let us know where we need to be in the future.”

At Mayor Randall Woodfin’s “Big Picture” presentation last week, Smith said that PredPol would be a central part of the city’s “real-time crime center,” which will serve as a hub for the city’s various crime-fighting resources.

The funding approved by the council on Tuesday allows for installation, integration and tech support services from PredPol, as well as for training officers how to use the software. The agreement will come with the option to renew those services for an additional year.

Also approved was approximately $15,000 for Assisted Patrol Bait Systems, a self-described “theft apprehension system” based in Beavercreek, Ohio. The systems allow for officers to place items — such as vehicles, purses or bags — in areas with high rates of property theft. Those items will have sensors, such as a built-in camera and a GPS tracker, that will allow police to identify and locate thieves. According to Assisted Patrol’s website, the system is designed to target “high-rate offenders … without the need for special stakeouts” and ultimately to act as a deterrent for thieves.

Both items were initially slated to be approved as part of the council’s consent agenda, but Councilor Hunter Williams asked for them to be removed. When the items later came before the council for a vote, Williams, who chairs the council’s public safety committee, said he had received additional information and was satisfied. Both funding proposals were approved unanimously.

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