Hugh Pickens writes:
True Angelenos don't even bother to look up when one of the LAPD's 17 helicopters rattles their windows searching for a car-jacked Camry or an assault suspect hiding under a jacaranda but few doubt that more bad guys would get away without the nation's largest police helicopter fleet to help chase them. Now the LA Times reports that data shows that LA's helicopters are stopping crimes before they happen. Tapping into the data-driven policing trend, the department uses heat maps, technology and years of statistics to identify crime "hot spots." Pilots then use their downtime to fly over them, on the theory that would-be criminals tend to rethink their nefarious plans when there's "ghetto birds," as Ice Cube calls them, hovering overhead. Months of data show that the number of serious crimes reported in the LAPD's Newton Division in South L.A. fell during weeks when the helicopters conducted more flights. During the week of Sept. 13, when the helicopter unit flew over Newton 65 times, the division recorded 90 crimes. A week later, the number of flights dropped to 40 and the number of reported crimes skyrocketed to 136, with rises seen among almost all types of crime, including burglary, car theft and thefts from vehicles. "It's extremely cutting edge," says Capt. Gary Walters, who heads the LAPD's air support unit. "It's different. It's nothing that we've ever done before with this specificity."
But Professor Geoffrey Alpert. a policing expert who has studied the use of police helicopters in Miami and Baltimore, says the choppers can deter crime in the short-term but criminals will likely return when they're not around (PDF). "You are deterring the criminals but you aren't getting rid of them and their intent. Those criminals could strike in a different time and place," says Alpert. "I mean that’s the whole thing about random patrol. You see a police car and it’s the same thing. You hide, he goes around the block and you go back to your breaking and entering.”
Back in the day I was sitting on Venice Beach late at night, with a pretty girl. A police helicopter hovered low over us, then circled around, shining its light on us the whole time.
What crime was prevented? That she and I might have fallen in love?