The police keep trying to come up with newer and better ways of doing their jobs. In one sense, this is a good thing, because, in theory at least, they have the interest of the community in mind. In another sense, however, it seems that each and every new “development” is a step backwards, as it contributes to tension between law enforcement and the very people it’s supposed to serve.
The most recent change in police tactics has been in the form of “predictive policing.” By using computers to collect data on high-crime neighborhoods, the activity of current parolees, as well as information received by officers on the street and on social media; police departments create mathematical algorithms that predict not only where a crime will occur, but when, and by whom. Then police gather up the people on their new “hot list,” and have a meeting that they call a “call-in.” There, law enforcement warn everyone that they’re being watched, and that any violation of the law that they might commit, no matter how small, will be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.
Supporters of predictive policing point to Kansas City as a shining example of the tactic’s success. There, homicide rates have fallen each year since the tactic was first implemented. However, these statistics are very basic – there’s no evidence that this drop in the city’s homicide rate was a result of predictive policing, or if there were other elements contributing to the drop, as well. In fact, in a study conducted by the non-profit group RAND Corporation, it was found that predictive policing was only 5 – 10% better at predicting crimes than regular police activity.
While the benefits of predictive policing range from uncertain to negligible, the effect that predictive policing has on local communities is serious.
Former criminals who are trying to rebuild their lives, routinely have to attend “call-ins,” where they’re reminded that the police are waiting for them to slip, and that, if they make even a small mistake, they’ll be aggressively prosecuted. This adds even more anxiety to their already stressful lives, as they try to make things work out.
Even innocent people find themselves on a police department’s predictive “hot list,” simply because of their relations with known criminals. Because predictive policing gathers information from social media, being friends with a felon on Facebook can result in you being watched closely by law enforcement, even if you’ve done nothing wrong.
Predictive policing is yet another attempt to “stop crime before it happens.” However, not only is this impossible, but it’s not even a worthwhile goal, due to how many innocent people will inevitably get caught in the web of the law.
Many of you may recall the epic sci-fi film, Minority Report. in that film, the police were literally trying to stop crime before the crime was ever committed. The problem in that film was that innocent people ended up being charged for the intent to commit a crime before any crime was ever committed. The end of the film found the more minority report program flawed and therefore the program was dismantled. Tom Cruise, who is the hero in the film, was also reported “innocent man” that was being hunted by police for a crime he neither intended to commit nor did he ever commit.
As you can see, there are actual true parallels between the movie minority report and was going on with law enforcement in Kansas City. The similarities are disturbing to say the least. As both the defense attorney and a law-abiding citizen, I understand the need for law enforcement and protection of innocent civilians. However I see a greater need or at least an equal bead to protect the rights of everyone innocent, and accused. It would appear that Kansas City’s program is taking the stance of being “proactive” in the face of increased criminal activity. This is a flawed methodology that will undoubtedly not only ensnare innocent people but also trample on constitutional rights to privacy; as it appears the police have the capability of monitoring innocent people’s social media accounts. This is a disturbing development but one that should not be surprising and what is now a big brother-esque society.
While predictive policing is only being experimented on in a few cities, criminal defense attorney William T. Bly is watching its development closely.
If you’ve been charged with a crime, call William T. Bly’s law office at (207) 571-8146, or contact him online. His years of experience defending against a myriad of criminal charges make him one of Maine’s premier criminal defense attorneys.
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