We now live in a data-driven world. Businesses collect, analyze and use countless data points to improve efficiency and reach customers. For the most part, reliance on algorithms and data analysis is beneficial – it makes life better for most people.
But using big data doesn’t improve every sector of life. In fact, it can cause very real problems. When utilized irresponsibly in law enforcement, it can be used to oppress the communities police are sworn to serve and protect.
This debate is currently playing out in Los Angeles, where the LAPD has recently (and reluctantly) agreed to end or fix certain data-driven policing strategies. Among the controversial measures:
- Building profiles and collecting information on individuals considered most likely to commit crimes
- Scanning license plates and keeping tabs on “chronic offenders”
- Concentrating police officers in designated “high-crime areas”
- Utilizing location-based crime prediction software
- Utilizing a “chronic offender bulletin”
In short, these practices rely on artificial intelligence software to predict where/when crime activity will occur and who might be likely to offend. On face, this may seem like a powerful tool and a smart use of resources. But data analysis is only as good as the data itself. And much of the information fed into the software was collected using methods that target minorities and/or low-income individuals.
Moreover, predictive policing is a problem in its own right because police often tend to find criminal activity wherever they look for it. If rates of drug use are similar among Caucasians and African Americans (and studies show they are), why are African Americans so much more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for drug offenses?
Although the fight is far from over, it seems as though pressure from citizen advocacy groups is helping to curb predictive policing practices by the LAPD. Hopefully, this kind of advocacy will serve as a model for communities elsewhere who may be facing similar tactics.
If you’ve been charged with a crime, you need to understand your rights and legal options – especially if you may have been targeted as the result of biased policing practices. Please discuss your charges with an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area.