Is Crime-Predicting Software a Legal Basis for a Police Stop?


Software developed by UCLA anthropologist Jeff Brantingham uses statistics of past crimes to project where crime is moving. Police in Los Angeles say it’s worked well in predicting property crimes there. Now Seattle is about to expand it for use in predicting gun violence, NPR reports. Brantingham is selling the predictive system to police departments under the name PredPol.

Andrew Ferguson, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia, says police departments have told police not to use it as a basis for stops. He wonders how long that can last. It may be that PredPol is a constitutional basis for stopping someone. Some might consider it more objective than an individual police officer’s judgment — less prone to racism or other kinds of profiling, for example. Ferguson says that argument may have merit, but police and society still need to be careful. “I think most people are gonna defer to the black box,” he says. “Which means we need to focus on what’s going into that black box, how accurate it is, and what transparency and accountability measures we have [for] it.”

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