Gendarmes still struggle to predict future crime despite new software

By Alexandre Léchenet

Gendarmes in Frances have been testing algorithmic software to see if it will help them predict patterns of offences in their areas and thus help them to cut crime. Despite the claims made for the software, analysis by Mediapart suggests that it has had limited effect, far removed from how it is portrayed in science fiction. Nonetheless, as Alexandre Léchenet reports, the crime 'predicting' tool has now been rolled out for general use by gendarmes across France.

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Every article about the predictive algorithms used by the French gendarmerie mentions the Steven Spielberg film Minority Report, which is itself based on a science fiction short story by Philip K. Dick. This comparison is far removed from the reality – as many gendarmes have agreed when interviewed – but it has the advantage of making the gendarmes look modern and operating at the frontiers of science fiction. Even in official documents, in particular during a recent presentation by police about public safety, the new software is held up as a sign of the “gendarmerie of the future” (see below).Officially known as “decisional analysis”, this new tool has this year been installed in all computers and tablets used by gendarmes. It is in the form of a browsable map of the zones patrolled by gendarmes, which are largely rural areas of France. This map pulls together the history of recorded burglaries and car theft and states the likely risk of these crimes occurring again. These particular offences have been chosen by the team who developed the tool because they make up a third of all crime in areas patrolled by gendarmes, and they are crimes which are quite often reported.