Friday, September 25, 2015

Minority Report: Now At A Police Agency Near You

Police Program Aims to Pinpoint Those Most Likely to Commit Crimes:

Mr. Brown, whose criminal record includes drug and assault charges, is at the center of an experiment taking place in dozens of police departments across the country, one in which the authorities have turned to complex computer algorithms to try to pinpoint the people most likely to be involved in future violent crimes — as either predator or prey. The goal is to do all they can to prevent the crime from happening.

The strategy, known as predictive policing, combines elements of traditional policing, like increased attention to crime “hot spots” and close monitoring of recent parolees. But it often also uses other data, including information about friendships, social media activity and drug use, to identify “hot people” and aid the authorities in forecasting crime.
And by "hot" they don't mean in the vernacular of Paris Hilton.
Civil liberties groups take a dim view of the strategy, questioning its legality and efficacy, and asserting that it may actually worsen the rapport between the police and civilians.

Ezekiel Edwards, the director of the Criminal Law Reform Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, said predictive policing tended to legitimize the profiling of racial minorities who live in poor, high-crime neighborhoods, and prompted officers to enforce laws selectively.

“Our concern is guilt by association,” Mr. Edwards said. “Because you live in a certain neighborhood or hang out with certain people, we are now going to be suspicious of you and treat you differently, not because you have committed a crime or because we have information that allows us to arrest you, but because our predictive tool shows us you might commit a crime at some point in the future.”
The thing is, their predictor variables are almost laughable.
But researchers working with the police to develop the predictive algorithms say that they can come closer than traditional detective work to figuring out who is most apt to break the law. They say criminals commit violent crimes in fairly distinctive patterns and often have similar attributes. Those include previous arrests; unemployment; an unstable home life; friends and relatives who have been killed, are in prison or have gang ties; and problems with drugs or alcohol.
Ha ha ha. With such a broad, all-encompassing use in predictability, maybe the better question would be: who isn't going to become a criminal? Because their symptomology is so broad, one could conclude every person  in the known universe could potentially become a violent criminal.

Also, these so-called "algorithms" aren't anything new. Social scientists have known and shown for years that these variables (and hundreds of others) are positively correlated with criminal behavior.

But as the old saying goes, correlation does not equal causation. Just because a person is unemployed, knows someone in prison, or has a problem with hooch, doesn't mean those things are going to cause them to commit crime.

Worse, none of the departments say exactly what they do with the information/person once they are identified.
In Chicago, the police have developed a “heat list” of 400 people who are considered far more likely than the average person to be involved in violent crime. Factors in compiling that list included their criminal records, social circles and gang connections. Also a factor was whether they had been victims of an assault or a shooting.

“These are the people with the highest propensity for violence in the city of Chicago,” said Robert J. Tracy, chief of crime control strategies for the Chicago Police Department.
And? Are they being tailed 24/7? Invited to more "indoctrination" seminars where law enforcement officials put on their version of Scared Straight? Or, the Chicago PD being the Chicago PD, just disappeared into some Homan Square black site?

If this sounds hauntingly like that gem of a movie "Minority Report" from 2002, bonus points for you. Because what I love about that movie is that they aren't afraid to say exactly what should be done with all the "precogs" (those identified to be "PreCrime Cognizant"):
Precogs are placed under surveillance in case their future crimes actually occur. Many are sent to an "undisclosed location," a small, uncharted island in the North Atlantic Ocean, to live their lives in peace.
Look, I love a good Hollywood movie as much as the next person, but the idea that this kind of algorithmic voodoo is going to prevent crime is absurd. We'd all love to live in a world where something like that would be possible, and crime could exist at 0% levels.

But it's never going to happen (see also: Durkheim, Crime is Normal)...and this kind of Orwellian "solution" to the problem is neither preventative nor accurate. They've tried this in juvenile delinquency for years (so called "predelinquency behaviors" like ADHD or nail-biting) to no avail.

Law enforcement should stick with its original mission: solving crimes. While an ounce of prevention may indeed be worth more than a pound of cure, shredding the Constitution, our laws, the presumption of innocence, and about a dozen other civil liberties isn't worth it. 

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