Carnegie Mellon University
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Metro21 Statement re: Pittsburgh Crime Hot Spot Project
June 20, 2020

Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University is focused on using innovations in technology and policy to improve the quality of life for all residents independent of gender, race, ethnicity, national origin and orientation. Metro21 faculty and staff are therefore outraged by social injustices in general and the killing of George Floyd in particular. We are aligned with citizenry and the CMU community in strongly supporting the nationwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality. The movement against racial injustices represents a turning point in American history, providing the momentum for enacting real and lasting change to address systemic racism, police brutality and longstanding biases. We also feel honored to be at a university like CMU where all can share their views openly and freely.

Within its project portfolio that spans a broad range of topics, Metro21 completed in 2019 a project on predictive policing that has garnered attention given recent incidents. This research project was a partnership between CMU and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police (PBP), the Pittsburgh Department of Innovation and Performance, and the Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety. The goal of the project was to reduce serious violent crime in Pittsburgh through prevention without increasing arrests by predicting locations — not individuals — at heightened risk of violent crime. Police patrol activity was then directed to those locations. The project was run city-wide and included all Pittsburgh neighborhoods. The project concluded in December 2019, and we are no longer sharing data with the police.

The prediction model specifically did not use racial, demographic or socioeconomic data. Nor did it use data on individual persons. The model only used crime offense data for crimes with victims and 911 calls for service. Using this information, CMU researchers identified chronic hot spots based on the number of serious crimes committed in an area using data from previous years. In each selected area, the researchers then identified temporary hot spots using an AI-based predictive model. The temporary hot spots identified high-crime locations that the police may have been unaware of, anywhere in the city. It provided police zone commanders with a new tool predicting hotspots to augment their existing process of directing patrol activity.

The tool was evaluated in the field, resulting in a 34% drop in serious violent crime in temporary hot spot locations, and a 24% drop in chronic hot spot locations during the duration of the experiment. There were only four arrests during 20,000 hotspot patrols. There was also no evidence of displacement of crime to other areas. Lastly, there was no cost to the PBP for this project, as it used discretionary time of existing uniformed patrol officers.

Metro21 is committed to research that is beneficial to society as a whole and to upholding the highest level of ethical standards. This project was evaluated by and complied with all university research protocols.

We deeply understand and appreciate the well-founded concerns regarding systemic racism and police brutality. We applaud the drive and passion to transform society for the better. Metro21 supports all those who seek positive and constructive change. We commit to providing serious consideration to see how Metro21 can help to make that change using a combination of people, technology and policy.

Using Technology and Policy to Transform City Life

Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. By 2050, The United Nations anticipates that this proportion will surge to 68 percent. Already, exponential population growth in global metropolitan areas has only emphasized the need for a robust and human-centered infrastructure. To address the current and future critical challenges facing cities worldwide, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are transforming the urban experience through connect, intelligent infrastructure – or smart cities.

Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon tasks a forward-looking creative approach to bringing people, technology and policy together to significantly improve quality of life in metropolitan areas. This multidisciplinary effort employs research, development and deployment tactics with key partners to create and implement smart city solutions around the world.

In collaboration with the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and other government agencies, Metro21 has set the standard with an interoperable global model for smart city solutions.

Learn more about Metro21

As a founding member of the MetroLabs Network, CMU works closely with 35 other city-university partnerships to scale effective solutions, accelerate best practices and advance the understanding of urban science.

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