In the wake of much controversy, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that some police departments are in search of a way to improve relations with the communities in which they patrol. In an attempt to do just that, some are adopting technologies that offer predictive policing — software that analyzes crime data and dictates where crimes are likely to occur. It sounds like something taken directly out of the Tom Cruise 2002 movie Minority Report.
It’s hard to determine what kind of effect these programs are meant to have if they are put to use in communities that are distrustful of the police. Are they intended to reinforce the authority of officers? Does analyzing data on a computer in order to target high crime areas make their stops, arrests and searches more valid? It’s hard to believe it does.
Technology isn’t required in order for police to determine high crime areas. After years of working a particular city or town, they know the lay of the land. They know where crimes happen and when and even some of the big players involved in said crimes. I’d venture a guess that they don’t need a square over a map to tell them where they should patrol.
The data analysis gives them information they already have. It doesn’t tell them what to do once they are in the areas indicated on the map. They still have to determine who the criminals are. And that requires some judgment calls or, as police call it, profiling. That doesn’t mean racial profiling, but criminal profiling. Not pulling someone over because of the color of the skin or the way they wear their clothes, but because they are making a violation that, based on data, creates suspicion.
The people who want to see racist intentions behind valid stops and searches won’t be appeased by hearing that software indicated they should be stopped or searched. And the stops and searches that are made based off of racial profiling rather than criminal profiling won’t be stopped by this sort of technology either. It’s seems these new technologies are just an expensive way to try and validate an officer’s judgment.