STORY: "Crime-prediction tool PredPol amplifies racially biased policing, study shows," by Jack Smith IV, published by Mic on October 9, 2016.
GIST: "Algorithms have taken hold over our lives whether we appreciate it or not. When Facebook delivers us clickbait and conspiracy theories, it's an algorithm deciding what you're interested in. When Uber ratchets up rush-hour prices, it's the service's algorithm kicking in to maximize profits. When ads for shoes you can't afford follow you around the internet until you give in, it's an algorithm tracking your course. Algorithms are also taking over policing. In cities like Los Angeles, Atlanta and Philadelphia, "predictive policing" algorithms comb through past crime data to tell officers which people and places are most at risk for future crimes. The most popular is PredPol, an algorithm developed by the Los Angeles Police Department in collaboration with local universities that takes in hard data about where and when crimes happened and then makes a "hotspot" map of where crime will likely happen next. "These models are supposed to give you some unseen insight into where crime is supposed to be, but it's just common-sense stuff." But according to a study to be published later this month in the academic journal Significance, PredPol may merely be reinforcing bad police habits. When researchers from the Human Rights Data Analysis Group — a nonprofit dedicated to using science to analyze human-rights violations around the world — applied the tool to crime data in Oakland, the algorithm recommended that police deploy officers to neighborhoods with mostly black residents. As it happens, police in Oakland were already sending officers into these areas. "These models are supposed to give you some unseen insight into where crime is supposed to be," William Isaac, one of the report's co-authors, said in an interview. "But it's just common-sense stuff, and we make a case that these software suites are basically used as a tool to validate police decisions.".........
To see how actual police practices in Oakland matched up with PredPol's recommendations, researchers also compared PredPol's map to a map of where Oakland Police arrested people for drug crimes. The maps were strikingly similar. Regardless of where crime is happening, predominantly black neighborhoods have about 200 times more drug arrests than other Oakland neighborhoods. In other words, police in Oakland are already doing what PredPol's map suggested — over-policing black neighborhoods — rather than zeroing in on where drug crime is happening. "If you were to look at the data and where they're finding drug crime, it's not the same thing as where the drug crime actually is," Lum said in an interview. "Drug crime is everywhere, but police only find it where they're looking." PredPol did not respond to Mic's request for comment.........To be clear, Oakland does not currently use PredPol — researchers merely used Oakland as an example of what happens when you apply PredPol to a major metropolitan area. Dozens of other U.S. cities, however, do. It is a staple of policing in Los Angeles, which has the second-largest department in the country after New York City. Across the nation, PredPol is deciding what neighborhoods and city blocks officers prioritize when they make their rounds. Because PredPol's algorithm uses reported crime and arrests to generate a heat map — as opposed to where crime actually occurs — its recommendations can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When officers are dispatched to neighborhoods where police already make a lot of arrests, they make even more, creating a feedback loop.........Predictive policing is still an exciting tool for departments under pressure from their city hall to modernize the police force. But many departments are giving up on crime mapping entirely for precisely the reason Isaac and Lum discovered in the course of their research: The new wave of predictive policing programs end up telling police what they already know. One criminologist Mic spoke with last year referred to it as "old wine in new bottles."........."If predictive policing means some individuals are going to have more police involvement in their life, there needs to be a minimum of transparency," Adam Schwartz, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said in an interview "Until they do that, the public should have no confidence that the inputs and algorithms are a sound basis to predict anything.".........Schwartz pointed out that in some states, such as Illinois, there are legal prohibitions on adopting systems that have a racially-disparate impact. Without being able to evaluate predictive policing systems, and strong laws in place to prevent police technology from amplifying the worst biases in police work, he says predictive policing isn't ready for actual police use."
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: http://www.thestar.com/topic/