ABA Journal


The National Pulse

Predictive policing may help bag burglars—but it may also be a constitutional problem

Sep 1, 2013, 08:40 am CDT


Taking your first example- the man with the black bag- while I don’t think the black bag plus the algorithm would allow them to stop and frisk him (they certainly shouldn’t frisk since there’s no indication he has a weapon), there is nothing to stop the police from parking their car, getting out, and engaging him in conversation. Police can do this with anyone, and don’t have to have reasonable suspicion to do so. Of course, he’s free to ignore them or to refuse to have a conversation with them. But then, if the man is up to no good, the point is made that the police are watching. If the man is doing nothing wrong, then an innocent person has not been wrongfully detained.

By Tom on 2013 08 28, 12:32 pm CDT

Predictive policing is not new. Everyone knows that weekends bring out the DUI’s and fights in bars while domestic 911 calls peak during certain days of the month. Police park their vehicles predicting the routes of drunk drivers near fringing establishments and stir security know where and when shoplifting will most likely happen and the likely ages of the perpetrators. Police and security officers use this information to monitor and observe individuals.  I guess using computers is more exotic and that’s the focus of this story, but a well-run police agency would beat IBM any day of the year.

By Adel on 2013 08 28, 3:33 pm CDT

Police don’t prevent crime, never have, never will. They respond to a crime that has already happened, always have, always will. It’s when they perceive something that hasn’t happened yet, is when innocent unarmed citizens get murdered by steroid crazed police. The constitution makes no mention of armed governmental policy enforcers, with the powers to use deadly force to enforce those policies. We need to address the recent murder spree these “police” agencies are conducting with impunity. Killing an unarmed person isn’t “good police work”.

By joebanana on 2013 08 28, 5:52 pm CDT

I was a prosecutor in an East Coast city for four years starting in 2001, 8 years before the phrase was supposedly coined.  The police had crime maps then pinpointing crime locations and strategies were used to concentrate resources in high crime areas.  (Weekend summer days saw daily arrests go from about 40 per day to sometimes 140 per day, mostly concentrated in partiular neighborhoods.)  Patrol officers were assigned to small areas to become familiar with the people living in them, police officials and prosecutors attended community meetings (“community policing” was the buzzword back then), special uniformed units were deployed to hot spots to deter crime and gather information, and the undercover narcotics officers expertly did their thing.  I suspect that going back decades, police in many cities knew where the crime was most likely to occur and when, and did what they could given their resources. 

Maybe there is not much new here except:  “the practice has spawned a multimillion-dollar industry.”  That means lots of salespeople and fluffy articles like this based on their slick marketing strategies.

And, to answer the question, if an officer showed up in our office having stopped a person because that person was just holding a black bag in a high crime area, there would be no prosecution.  I would hope the same would be true in any jurisdiction in America, from now till the end of our country.  For shame on the ABA for even posing the question.  Might have bothered to show it to a lawyer before putting it on the ABA’s news feed.  How embarassing for our profession.  Disgraceful for the ABA to publicly imply there is even an arguable issue.  More evidence we, as lawyers, are failing our country miserably.

By Another Mike on 2013 08 28, 7:05 pm CDT

Didn’t a judge in NY already rule NYC’s predictive policing- stop and frisk- violated the constitution? Crime mapping software is likely to lead to the same “predictors” used by NYC’s finest.

By Ric on 2013 08 28, 8:03 pm CDT

H. Theil (econometrician): [M]odels are to be used but not to be believed.

By No Hair on 2013 08 28, 9:54 pm CDT

Imagine a person having access to a map like that when purchasing property. Lots of people try to get a feel for whether or not they are moving into a “safe” neighborhood….but raw data of “You have a 22% chance of being burglarized sometime in the next five years” would be incredibly helpful.

Also, I completely agree with Tom. The police officer would be best to get out of his car and have a conversation with the man.

By Island Attorney on 2013 08 29, 10:38 pm CDT

7—> the policing issue aside, I would definitely want access to that type of information when buying a home.

By SME on 2013 09 03, 1:59 pm CDT

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