The New York Times recently published an article about a new trend emerging – predictive policing. In brief: a computer program has been developed and is being implemented in Santa Cruz to predict locations and blocks of time where certain crimes are most likely to occur. It sounds like the system is evidence based: that is to say, based on an input of data on crime events in the city in the past, it spits out a sort of extrapolation on what might happen in the future, and when. And evidently, they made an arrest utilizing that system already.
It reminds me of a story I heard on NPR a week or two ago about someone who developed a program to predict insurgent attacks in the Middle East. The same deal: that these attacks could be predicted and prepared for ahead of time using a number of different factors as inputs – current political and/or economic climate, history of previous attacks, etc. etc.
What concerns me about this is how it might a) infringe on civil rights and b) be a tool that’s utilized to profile and discriminate against people. In the article, it says that two women were arrested for looking inside of cars. That sounds deeply problematic to me. If we start swiping up everyone who looks suspicious on the street because a computer told us to watch out for the bad guys, we’re going to have a whole lot of poor brown people with nonviolent offenses sitting in the jail again.
It also doesn’t seem like a viable financial balm for the current local and state budgetary issues. Correctional facilities around the country are currently purging like mad – they’re overcrowded and are even considering releasing people left and right, whether or not they’ve served out their sentence, because they just don’t have the space or the money to continue to house them. Departments are interested in using this predictive policing method to utilize their funds more efficiently, but this sounds pretty counter-productive in the long run.
And, maybe most unsettling of all to me is how it rings quite like another 1-size-fits-all, smoke-screen kind of solution to a problem that deserves a much more nuanced approach (let me not even GET INTO the long, fraught history of US correctional approaches and the absence of PROVEN EFFECTIVE educational alternatives….AHHH). This runs the risk of being yet another way we set up a huge, sparkly shiny facade to make everyone feel safe and protected, but instead we’re looking at the blinking red dot of danger the computer tells us to focus on, while the real world (and real crime) takes place everywhere else.
This post is brought to you by Chloe, who somewhat successfully avoided going off on several tangential rants here.