More Law Enforcement Agencies Turning To “Pre-Crime” Policing

Steve Watson

Police and other law enforcers in the US are increasingly turning to ‘Minority Report’ style “pre-crime” strategies to fight crimes by predicting them before they take place.

A report out today from the AFP notes that “predictive analytics” software, computer algorithms that predict where and when patterns of crimes will occur, has been adopted by police departments from Santa Cruz, California, to Memphis, Tennessee.

Law enforcement agencies in Washington D.C. are already using a software database developed by the University of Pennsylvania that they claim can predict when crimes will be committed and who will commit them, before they actually happen.

Officials in some areas claim to have seen up to a 30 percent drop in serious crime since adopting the technology.

The technology sifts through a database of thousands of crimes and uses algorithms and different variables, such as geographical location, criminal records and ages of previous offenders, to come up with predictions of where, when, and how a crime could possibly be committed and by who.

The program operates without any direct evidence that a crime will be committed, it simply takes datasets and computes possibilities.

The AFP report quotes Colleen McCue, a behavioral scientist who is working with The Department of Homeland Security on pre-crime programs. McCue says that “People are creatures of habit,” comparing criminals to shoppers.

“When you go shopping you go to a place where they have the things you’re looking for… the criminal wants to go where he will be successful also.” McCue says.

The report also cites comments from Mark Cleverly, an IBM predictive crime analytic expert.

“It’s not saying a crime will occur at a particular time and place, no one can do that. But it can say you can expect a wave of vehicle thefts based one everything we know.” Cleverly notes, adding that he believes the technology can improve privacy.

“You can pinpoint the record of who has access to information, you have a solid history of what’s going on, so if someone is using the system for ill you have an audit trail,” he said.

Cleverly adds that the technology should not be compared to that envisaged by Philip K. Dick in ‘The Minority Report’. “It was a great film and great short story, but it’s science fiction and will remain science fiction. That’s not what this is about.” Cleverly said.

However, Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia, warns that the technology may represent a threat to constitutional protections on “unreasonable” searches.

“To stop you and frisk you and search you, a police officer needs reasonable suspicion, so my question is how will this affect reasonable suspicion?” he said.

“How do you cross-examine a computer?” Ferguson said, noting that any court cases brought from “evidence” based on the algorithm software would face legal gray areas.

The technology is also being combined with surveillance cameras, which are being rolled out in major cities across the country.

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