[News] Why NYPD’s ‘Predictive Policing’ Should Scare You

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jul 22 13:39:06 EDT 2015

    <http://citylimits.org/>Why NYPD’s ‘Predictive Policing’ Should
    Scare You

          By Josmar Trujillo
          <http://citylimits.org/author/josmar-trujillo/>| January 29, 2015


Mayor Bill de Blasio, Commissioner Bill Bratton and District Attorney 
Cyrus Vance announce initiative to enhance NYPD mobile communications. 
Thursday, October 23, 2014.

Emerging from weeks of mass demonstrations and the killing of two cops, 
Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton showcased city 
crime stats for 2014 this month to a room full of journalists eager to 
prod the pair after a year of controversy. While touting the low crime 
figures, Bratton also spoke to the future:

"2015 will be one of the most significant years in the history of this 
organization. It will be the year of technology, in which we literally 
will give to every member of this department technology that would've 
been unheard of even a few years ago."

While 2014 ended with historic protests and a political soap opera 
involving police unions, Bratton reminded everyone what he had been 
saying consistently during the first year of his second stint at One 
Police Plaza: He would be ushering the police department into a modern 
era of policing—one based on "predictive policing."

While the mention of "predictive policing" might send chills down the 
backs of civil libertarians, no one can say they were blindsided. 
Bratton spoke very openly and candidly about it in an interview with the 
/New York Times/ early last year. He also mentioned it to a law 
enforcement audience last Spring while sitting alongside military 
leaders on a panel discussing "21st Century Leadership" at the 92nd 
street Y. It was there that he reiterated his plans to get hi-tech 
tablets and smartphones into the hands of every cop on the force and 
into every squad car.

Rubber hit the road last October as Bratton, de Blasio and Manhattan 
District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced that the tablets would be paid 
for by asset forfeiture funds obtained by the City and the DA's office.

"Christmas has come early", Bratton declared.

Predictive policing has its roots in the work of Bratton and Manhattan 
Institute fellow George Kelling. Bratton, known widely as the champion 
of Broken Windows policing (the focus on low-level crimes to prevent 
more serious crime), also co-founded the COMPSTAT system at the NYPD in 
the 90's. COMPSTAT became a numbers-crunching performance tool that was 
widely regarded as having revolutionized policing in New York, and then 
abroad. Its focus on crime stats, combined with the buffet-style 
policing approach that Broken Windows promotes, led to the oft-reported 
(and always officially denied) NYPD quota system. It also, by mapping 
crime stats, allowed authorities to aggressively police communities of 
color by saying they "put cops where the crime is." These were the 
building blocks of a decades-long obsession with prevention down at 1 
Police Plaza.

It was more recently, in an influential 2008 Oxford University paper 
titled "Police Performance Management in Practice: Taking COMPSTAT to 
the next level," that Bratton's devotion to preventing crime through 
low-level arrests made the leap towards prediction. Bratton, then head 
of the LAPD, forecast "predictive methods to create even more timely and 
successful intervention and crime reduction initiatives."

"We will move from near real-time analysis to true real-time analysis 
and then to a 'predictive policing’ posture wherein more accurate and 
reliable probability modeling will be utilized to forecast potential 
crime trends over an increasing time span."

But Bratton's role vis-a-vis predictive policing wasn't just as a highly 
influential advocate. He had, in fact, laid much of the groundwork in 
Los Angeles from the moment he arrived. Shortly before his return as 
head of the NYPD was to be announced, the /SF Weekly/ published a 
lengthy expose of a little-known California technology firm called 
PredPol that shed some light:

    Interest in predictive policing spiked nationally in 2009 as the
    National Institute of Justice, the research and policy branch of the
    Department of Justice, published a series of white papers and doled
    out millions in grant money to seven police departments to undertake
    the task.

    One of the grants went to the Los Angeles Police Department in 2009.
    When LAPD applied for the grant two years earlier, it was still
    under the leadership of Bill Bratton, who had championed CompStat's
    introduction while serving as NYPD commissioner from 1994 to 1996.
    Bratton wanted LAPD to be a crime-fighting laboratory. He assigned
    then-Lt. Sean Malinowski, a former Fulbright scholar who had studied
    counterterrorism at the Egyptian National Police Academy in Cairo,
    to be the lead investigator on LAPD's predictive policing grant.

    Around the same time, researchers ... were using grants from the
    Army, Air Force, and Navy to develop a series of algorithms based on
    earthquake prediction to forecast battlefield casualties and
    insurgent activities in overseas war zones. Army Research Office
    documents reveal that the work of anthropology professor Jeffery
    Brantingham, math professor Andrea Bertozzi, and math postdoc George
    Mohler was repurposed from its initial application of tracking
    insurgents and forecasting casualties in Iraq to analyze and predict
    urban crime patterns. This research would lead to the creation of

In Los Angeles, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, taking over after Bratton left, 
expanded on the theme in a 2009 piece for /Police Chief/ magazine titled 
"Predictive Policing: What Can We Learn from Wal-Mart and Amazon about 
Fighting Crime in a Recession?" Beck explained that "intelligence-led 
policing" was largely a result of 9/11: "Homeland security increasingly 
has become hometown security." And, as the title suggested, corporate 
America and law enforcement were melding their work together towards 
this end like never before. Beck, now working with PredPol, echoed 
Bratton's assertions in that Oxford paper that "partnerships" with 
"business communities" could create "models of performance metrics" for 
police departments. Police leaders of large urban police departments 
were now turning to the corporate world for lessons on increased 
"efficiency and effectiveness" by forecasting trends.

Perhaps no other police department was as ambitious with predictive 
policing as Chicago's police department, though. Chicago PD, recipient 
of over $2 million in NIJ funding, had developed a "heat list" of 400 of 
the city's "most dangerous" residents based on predictive policing 
algorithms. One of the leaders of Chicago's efforts was a professor and 
researcher who'd done this sort of work "since the 1980s when he worked 
with the U.S. military to recognize potential targets in the 
battlefield." Like the UCLA researches did with the LAPD, Chicago was 
bringing key technological aspects of the war home.

Recently, they've come home to the city where COMPSTAT was born. Last 
year in Harlem, the city's largest-ever gang raid resulted in 103 
indictments stemming from two murders. The raid was buoyed by Operation 
Crew Cut, the NYPD program where social media interactions play a 
significant role in determining guilt and building cases oftentimes by 
mere association. NYPD detectives and intelligence analysts had 
monitored dozens of public housing residents for years, including the 
collection of more than a million Facebook posts, leading up to the 
military-style raid. Not to be outdone, District Attorney Vance played 
clean up in the sweeps by weaving together complex conspiracy charges 
that forced dozens of young men to plead to sentences up to 15 years for 
things they had alleged to have conspired to do—and in most cases had 
not actually yet done.

The raid framed the question that dogs predictive policing: In an effort 
get out ahead of crime were we locking people up for breaking the law—or 
for the future dangers they posed?

During the official "Predictive Policing Symposiums" hosted by the NIJ 
in 2009 and 2010, law enforcement bigs exhorted the value of getting 
"buy-in" from policymakers. They explained that predictive policing 
wasn't something fundamentally new, rather that it would enhance current 
practices. This is most likely true. Cops who profile are in their own 
way predicting crime. But if you're inclined to view profiling-based 
policing as moving in the wrong direction, these technological 
enhancements would seem to only grease the wheels of profiling and 
police departments hellbent on ever lower crime—at virtually any cost.

As Ingrid Burrington wrote after Bratton's return to New York was 
announced, the legacy of Bratton and the turn towards predictive 
policing is also "about data—how governments think about data, how they 
use (and misuse) data… The techno-utopic dream of using data to identify 
crimes before they happen requires a tremendously low opinion of human 
beings and an unrelenting faith in algorithms." This criticism, of 
course, echoes the national debate on data collection. But its being 
done by local police will mean increased face-to-face interactions 
between cops and the areas criminality is being predicted in. This poses 
a set of risks beyond mere privacy intrusions.

Predictably, social media would provide a growing harvest of information 
for tech firms and police departments looking towards the predictive 
era. /The Economist/ boasted that "Firms that once specialized in 
helping executives measure how web users feel about their brands now 
supply products that warn police when civil unrest approaches ... Cops 
in California admit to trawling social networks for early warnings of 
wild parties. ECM Universe, an American firm, offers software that 
crawls sites 'rife with extremism' to identify people who deserve closer 

It's hard to imagine a more Orwellian future for high-poverty, 
high-crime communities than one in which technology intensifies the 
criminal justice spotlight on their neighborhoods. Funneling more cops 
and surveillance into certain neighborhoods all but assures that you'll 
find more crime there—especially the low-level type via Broken Windows. 
Indeed, if by being predictive police are looking to be prophetic, then 
it may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Communities of color are most 
familiar with a cycle in which cops aggressively look for crime, arrest 
and document crime, then set out to aggressively look for more crime in 
a city with less and less crime. Technology, though, adds in a new 
element wherein it normalizes aggressive, racialized policing through a 
veneer of color-blind efficiency. As people become data plots and 
probability scores, law enforcement officials and politicians alike can 
point and say technology is void of the racist, profiling bias of humans.

As /Forbes/ put it:

    "This combination of predictive tools that direct officers into
    certain neighborhoods backed by an increasing number of channels to
    surveil those who live in areas predetermined to be criminal is not
    new, but an extension of a pathology of law enforcement that assumes
    a criminal pretext by its mere presence in a community. It’s not
    predictive policing that makes this phenomenon possible, but it
    takes it one step further toward being totally irrefutable, secured
    by computer objectivity that further distances people from any
    direct power within the structures around them."

The stage seems to be set for this phenomenon in New York. PredPol's 
website explains their technology can be "accessed securely through 
computers or mobile devices in the field." Those new NYPD tablets will 
not only vacuum information, like fingerprints, into NYPD databases; 
they'll also be linked to the NYPD's Domain Awareness System (DAS), a 
joint project between the police department and Microsoft that provides 
access to 3,000 surveillance cameras, license-plate readers and untold 
amounts of crime stats and 911 call data. Gunshot-detection sensors that 
are slated to blanket communities of color for years to come have been 
contracted to SpotShotter, a firm connected to telecommunications giant 
Motorola. Bratton was a shareholder and board member for both. Even 
police-worn body cameras, ostensibly a reform, have the full-throated 
support of Bratton because of their value for surveillance—not 

Perhaps most alarming, as law professor Andrew Guthrie Ferguson has 
pointed out, is the potential for predictive policing to "change the 
balance of suspicion" in a way that could affect the Fourth Amendment's 
protections and essentially lower the reasonable suspicion bar in favor 
of the police. A computer algorithm that could serve the role of the 
anonymous tip in the eyes of the law could replace even the need for an 
actual human tip or complaint as a justification for a street stop. 
Entire neighborhoods fall under official, tech-sanctioned suspicion.

While New York city activists and reformers have fought for years the 
policies and ideas (Stop and Frisk, Broken Windows) that were the 
footprints of Bratton's first tenure, it's clear that any number of 
innovations going back to the 90's still influence people's lives today. 
Broken Windows has seen low-level crime arrests and summonses skyrocket 
over the years and is still the modus operandi of today. The fatal 
police interaction that took Eric Garner's life last year is part of 
that legacy.

Still, predictive policing may cast the longest shadow. At 67 years old, 
Bratton didn't return to New York to keep the seat warm. He's back on 
American policing's biggest stage to steer the department towards a 
policing era that could make Robocop and Minority Report seem prophetic.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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