Predictive Policing

The Los Angeles Police Department will soon begin using data from data-mining company Palantir that will further target police activity and presence in designated “hot spots.”

The data from Palantir will allow the LAPD to identify “chronic offenders,” and subject them to surveillance.

A report released this week by research and activist organization Stop LAPD Spying Coalition shows that only a very small portion of the LA population bears the heaviest burden of police surveillance.

According to the report, only 2% of residents reported that they were stopped by police 11-30 times or more per week on average, while 76% of respondents said they had never been stopped at all.

The population of Los Angeles is approximately 3.976 million, meaning that roughly 79,520 LA residents are being stopped by the police 11-30 times or more per week while the remaining 3.896 million residents live their lives free of harassment.

There is already a task force within the LAPD focused on maintaining and updating information on repeat offenders called “Chronic Offender Bulletins.” The task force is called Operation LASER, or Los Angeles Strategic Extraction and Restoration.

Each department is required to maintain a minimum of 12 such bulletins at all times, purportedly to assist officers in identifying the most active repeat offenders in a given area.

The program creates an inherent Catch-22 situation in that targets can only get off the list if they have zero interaction with law enforcement.

Since Operation LASER is designed to repeatedly target the same people over and over, it reduces the chances of anyone getting off the list.

If they do manage to be removed, they won’t be notified.

It’s expected that the entire LA area will adopt the LASER program by next year.

Furthermore, the LAPD is using a program called PredPol, which has been found to reinforce racially biased policing and yet is still being used by them and at least 50 other law enforcement agencies.

PredPol operates on predictive algorithms similar to those used by Facebook to pinpoint areas in which crimes are likely to occur.

PredPol calculates “hot spots” based off three variables: 1) where a crime was committed, 2) when the crime was committed, and 3) what type of crime it was.

Based off of this information, the system outlines 150 square meter areas within a given area where certain types of crimes are more likely to be committed, thus allowing law enforcement to plan their routes accordingly.

Opponents of the programs argue that they will only serve to protect racial profiling and discrimination on the part of police officers by masking their actions as being driven by scientific data and that they will result in the criminalization of not only individuals, but of entire neighborhoods.

To us, predictive policing seems a lot like the phrenology and eugenics movements, movements which were based on pseudoscience and aimed at identifying, suppressing, and even eliminating “undesirable” individuals.

This system simply allows for too much subjectivity.

Hypothetically, if police want to target an area because they are motivated by racial animus, then all they need to do is find reasons to arrest people in that area in order to force the system to designate it as a hot spot, thereby justifying any further activity police engage in in that area.

It’s a self-serving system that allows police to target specific areas and people under the guise of following orders rooted in science, just like phrenology and eugenics “justified” the mistreatment and even sterilization of minority groups in the name of “science.”

To read an in-depth expose on Operation LASER and PredPol by The Intercept, click here.


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