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"Predictive Policing" is being applauded by many in law enforcement as a highly promising new high-tech crime prevention tool. If predictive policing had its own social media page, it would undoubtedly have thousands of "likes" among police officers from Los Angeles to New York, Minneapolis to Atlanta, and London to Rio de Janeiro.
And if you had to abide by a 140-character "Tweet-style" limit to define predictive policing, it might read something like this: Predictive policing uses advanced technological tools and data analysis to empower law enforcement members to take proactive measures to "pre-empt" crime.
And therein lies the roots of current controversies about predictive policing, and why many outside of law enforcement are not so quick to give predictive policing an iconic Face Book-style "thumbs up."
Predictive Policing Pinpoints Where Crime Will Happen
Before It Happens
Back in the old school policing days, officers had big maps on the walls of precinct stations with colored thumb tacks that pinpointed "hot" crime areas. Captains and lieutenants would use real live intel from living and breathing human informants (or in some cases information gleaned from a perp or victim's last dying words) to direct and dispatch cops to patrol identified areas for the usual suspects --- drug dealers, car thieves, pimps and robbers.
That was then and this is now.
Enter a team of PhD mathematicians and social scientists from UCLA, Santa Clara University, UC-Irvine, crime analysts and line level police officers from Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, and a company called PredPol. Over a six-year period the team developed the technology and software for predictive policing.
The California team developed the model for predictive policing based on technology used for predicting aftershocks from earthquakes. But in this case, PredPol's technology forecasts the highest risk times and places for crime - in advance. And it is capable of targeting and pinpointing an area as small as 500 feet by 500 feet --- about the average size of a city square block. Time Magazine awarded PredPol's predictive policing technology as one of th
The FBI states on its website that the program uses historical information combined with current data to determine patterns. The system needs between 1,200 and 2,000 data points, including burglaries, batteries, assaults, or other crimes, for the most accuracy.
Is There a Thin Line Between Predictive Policing and Racial Profiling?
During a 2011 interview on National Public Radio, former Los Angeles Police Department Commissioner William Bratton acknowledged that in using predicting policing certain areas would be "redlined" and stigmatized as high crime areas.
This begs to wonder what impact predictive policing will have on white collar crime. Will it be a useful tool to catch the often wealthy criminals who engage in prostitution and drug use in fancy, luxury high-rise hotels in ritzy neighborhoods? Will there one day be a 4.0 version of predictive policing software that factors and attempts to level the suspicion field so that wealthy and often white offenders are scrutinized just as much as residents who live in so-called high crime neighborhoods? The current predictive policing data will undoubtedly and disproportionately send out a predictive red flag in areas predominately populated by people of color.
Will Predictive Policing Results Stand Up In Court?
Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, an assistant law professor at the University of the District of Columbia, told the Associated Press that he views the use of predictive policing as a "seductive idea." Ferguson further stated - "There are real pressures to expand this nationally and see it succeed. I think it's an important innovation. But like any innovation, it's not foolproof, and looking closely at the data is important to ensure it doesn't harm the civil liberties of the people living in those areas."
"Alone, a man carrying a bag is not reasonable suspicion," Ferguson explained. "But in court, the officer will say, `The computer told me to go there.' For the lawyer or the court, what are you going to do with this information? You can't cross-examine a computer."
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Crime Prevention Tool?
Or High-Tech Form of Racial Profiling?
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