Portland Police Turn To Big Data To Fight Car Theft

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Portland Police Turn To Big Data To Fight Car Theft
Portland Police Turn To Big Data To Fight Car Theft

Portland, like quite a few other large cities across the world, is dealing with a surge of car thefts. While many in the media tried to attribute the disturbing crime trend to the covid lockdowns, it actually began before any outbreak and is lasting long past the different health restrictions. Now, faced with a sobering reality, Portland Police Bureau has turned to an unlikely ally: big data.

See the Portland man who helps recover stolen cars for free here.

According to NBC News, the law enforcement agency is dealing with cars being stolen on average every 48 minutes in the city. As we already know, stealing cars isn’t just an end unto itself. Criminals use those vehicles to commit other crimes or as revenue sources to finance their other crimes, so clamping down on car theft is about snuffing out criminal activity in general. That’s why it’s an enforcement priority.


But the 2020 anti-police movement had real legs in Portland, diminishing the size of the city’s police force and other resources. Faced with not many options, they’ve done what sports teams and private companies do: using big data to optimize what they have and make it work.

The data-driven approach involved figuring out how veteran officers who have a proven track record of identifying stolen vehicles do it. Out of that a formula is created, supposedly allowing even the most rookie officers to quickly identify and recover stolen cars.

In the database were about 100 physical characteristics of stolen vehicles and driver behavior, not the people inside them. But is this really a new approach? We’ve been told by police many times in the past if they pull over certain types of cars, say a Cadillac Escalade, their chances of finding drugs is quite high. This is somewhat similar, only officers are looking for things like abnormal lane changes, an absence of a license plate, driving without lights on, etc.

What isn’t mentioned in the report is the adaptability of criminals. Sure, they’re not always the brightest crayons in the box, but if they realize not having a license plate is a guarantee they’ll get pulled over, (and why wouldn’t anyone realize that?) they’re going to start using fictitious plates, something we see often in other parts of the country.

Really, this is an arms race. While it’s great Portland police are making due with the few resources the city gives them, we’re pretty sure these initiatives would be even more effective if they had more funding for more officers. That might offend the sensibilities of those who like to loot and try setting the federal courthouse on fire when they’re feeling sad, but it might help restore some law and order in a city that’s known for the opposite.

Time will tell if Portland’s approach to crime is actually working or if this is just fancy talk without much backing it up. NBC News seems sold because the rate of recovering stolen cars per traffic stops is way up, but that might just be from the overall increase in vehicle theft, not a more effective police force.

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