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Tackling burglary

A futuristic approach to tackling burglary in Leeds is helping officers to predict where crimes will occur and target the areas before thieves can strike. The new scheme, Project Optimal, has echoes of Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi film Minority Report where detectives led by Tom Cruise use psychics to catch criminals before they can commit crimes.



But the “predictive policing” project is set in the present where the same tactics have helped Greater Manchester Police to cut burglary by more than a quarter in one of its hotspot areas. The approach is based on research that shows that homes that have been recently burgled and those nearby are more likely to be targeted.


The project, which is being piloted by West Yorkshire Police in North West Leeds Division, sees a team of intelligence analysts using sophisticated computer-based methodology to study burglary data to pinpoint the specific areas that are at greatest risk of burglary in the very near future.


Their work also highlights the likely times that burglars could strike and the methods they are most likely to use.


This allows patrols to be targeted into those areas at the relevant times to carry out stop checks to deter criminals or catch them in the act. The analysis produced also serves as the basis for ‘cocooning’ work where crime prevention measures are targeted at homes in the pinpointed areas.


On top of the immediate police response, homes that are burgled are visited by officers within 24 hours and their security improved. Officers also visit neighbouring properties within a set radius to tell residents there has been a burglary nearby, while offering them crime prevention advice and urging them to be vigilant and report anything suspicious to the police.


Chief Superintendent Dave Oldroyd, Divisional Commander for North West Leeds and the lead officer for the district on burglary, said: “This is an exciting new approach to tackling burglary which allows us to put our officers in the right place at the right time to protect the homes deemed most at risk through detailed analysis of crime patterns.


“For some years now we have looked at where our burglaries occur to identify hotspot areas, but this new project allows us to more reliably pinpoint specific areas and times where the risk is greatest so we can target our resources more effectively and efficiently.


“The use of predictive policing tactics to tackle burglary in other parts of the country has had some very positive results, and we hope it will have a significant impact here and help us to make sure fewer people are victims of burglary.”


The initiative, which is backed by the city’s community safety partnership Safer Leeds, is already showing some early signs of success. One example is a 65 per cent reduction in burglary in the Headingley area, which saw 20 less burglaries over the first five weeks of the project compared to the same period last year.


Project Optimal complements a number of initiatives to tackle burglary across the Leeds district, which includes specialist teams targeting known offenders and disruption of the trade in stolen goods. This increased focus has seen the number of burglaries across the district reduced to 7,662 offences over the last year, which is 1,207 fewer than the previous year and the lowest figure the city has seen since 2005/06.


The Leeds predictive policing model is based on work done by Greater Manchester Police with the University College London’s Department of Security and Crime Science which helped to cut burglaries in the Trafford area by 27 per cent in 2010/11.


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