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Pred Pol: Problematic manner of policing?

Some readers of our blog who enjoy futuristic sci-fi movies might flash almost immediately on one flick in particular as they read this post.

That would be Minority Report, which can be summarized thusly: Think Tom Cruise as the leader of a law enforcement division that uses high-end technology to see into the future and take proactive steps to deter crime before it actually happens.

Crazy, right? Never going to happen?

Proponents of PredPol say otherwise, and wax enthusiastically on already existing tech algorithms that they say make Predictive Policing a powerful tool for reducing crime across the country.

Critics of the predictive policing tool have blatant reservations regarding both its utility and application, noting that it is almost certain to be routinely employed in a manner that unjustly focuses on certain demographic groups and areas.

Apparently, it is seemingly impossible for most people -- even officials in police departments -- to say how PredPol and other algorithm-based crime predictors work. Police officers using such tools are simply given information that flows from data crunching that its authors say will better enable them to target crime areas, types of crimes that are likely to be committed, periods during which crime activity will spike and so forth. Advocates of predictive policing say that it reduces investigatory costs, improves resource application and fosters a drop in cops' subjectivity in relating with the populace, since officers have some hard data in hand to support probable cause.

Much of that pro-tool rationalizing is pure nonsense, say critics, who encompass a broad swath of civil liberty groups. They excoriate the lack of data that can be readily scrutinized to evaluate predictive policing's effectiveness. Moreover, they say that having a pile of spreadsheets in hand that support increased surveillance of a certain group of people in a confined area will necessarily produce discriminatory outcomes and embolden police to act in the absence of any truly reasonable cause to do so.

Those who fear predictive policing, notes a recent national media report on the practice, say that it merely gives "a technological sheen to old patterns of policing."

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