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What is predictive policing?

On Behalf of | Sep 7, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Information is powerful. Algorithms can be used to sort it and make predictions based on what that information shows. This is all the basis of predictive policing systems.

Essentially, the algorithm gets information about arrests and criminal activity from the police department. It slowly tracks this and builds up a base of knowledge. Once it has enough information, the algorithm can then identify places where crime is likely to happen. Police can be dispatched to this area in advance, sometimes deterring crime or making an arrest.

What are some of the problems with this?

Predictive policing sounds like it would work effectively, but there are a few known problems. Perhaps the biggest one is that it can become biased. It just reflects the biases of the police department itself.

For example, say that the officers in a certain department spend more time in a specific neighborhood because that is where numerous people live who are part of an ethnic minority group. The officers are biased against this group and believe that they will commit more crimes than other ethnic groups. They give this area a disproportionate amount of attention.

The computer itself isn’t going to be biased or racist, of course. But if all that it gets is information about arrests and criminal activity in one specific neighborhood, that will be labeled a hotspot. This will increase police presence in the area, unfairly targeting those individuals. The increased presence leads to more arrests and skews the data even further.

Your legal options

Technology is always changing, and it can sometimes have unintended effects on policing. Those who have been arrested or who are facing charges always need to be sure they know about their legal options.