How Predictive Policing Is Focusing On “Hot People” As Well as Hot Spots


Dozens of police departments across the U.S. have turned to computer algorithms to pinpoint people most likely to be involved in future violent crimes as either predator or prey, reports the New York Times. The goal is to do all they can to prevent the crime from happening. The strategy, known as predictive policing, combines elements of traditional policing, like increased attention to crime “hot spots” and close monitoring of recent parolees. It may also use other data, including information about friendships, social media activity and drug use, to identify “hot people.” Such a program in Kansas City is called the Kansas City No Violence Alliance ( KC NoVA). The message to targets: The next time they or anyone in their crews commit a violent act, the police will come after everyone in the group for whatever offense they can make stick, no matter how petty. “We have a moral reason to do a better job at addressing violence in this community,” said Jean Peters Baker, the prosecutor for Jackson County, which includes Kansas City. “I don't know that this will work, but we need to try.”

The use of computer models to forecast crime is part of a larger trend by governments and corporations that are increasingly turning to predictive analytics and data mining in looking at behaviors. Typically financed by the federal government, the strategy is being used by police departments including Los Angeles, Miami and Nashville and district attorneys' offices in Manhattan and Philadelphia. Civil liberties groups take a dim view of the strategy, questioning its legality and efficacy, and asserting that it may actually worsen the rapport between the police and civilians. Ezekiel Edwards of the Criminal Law Reform Project of the American Civil Liberties Union said predictive policing tended to legitimize the profiling of racial minorities who live in poor, high-crime neighborhoods, and prompted officers to enforce laws selectively.

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