Police Pioneering Minority Report-Like, Big Data-Driven, Predictive Technique On Individual Criminals
Tuesday, January 12, 2016 at 3:05PM
Thomas P.M. Barnett in Big Data, Citation Post, law enforcement, resilience
AS THE U.S. MILITARY EMBRACED COUNTER-INSURGENCY AND "SMALL WARS" AFTER 9/11, IT INVARIABLY PIVOTED FROM CLASSIC DEFENSE TO UNCONVENTIONAL SECURITY, AND - SINCE THEN - THAT SHIFT HAS TRICKLED DOWN TO POLICE DEPARTMENTS ACROSS THE NATION IN THE FORM OF REVOLUTIONARY TECHNOLOGIES DEVELOPED AND FIELDED. If you're the type who errs on the side of 9/11 changed everything, then this is a good example of its wide impact: what began in the national-security community, driven by the ambition and urgency to connect the dots, now migrates into law enforcement. Drones fall into this category (they connect the dots operationally and tactically in a myriad of ways), and so do Big Data techniques designed to sniff out potentialities and likelihoods.

Per a great WAPO piece (almost 2k in length), this is a glimpse of the future of policing - namely, the cops have serious insight, in hand, as to your potential for violence, as they approach your door or vehicle:

While officers raced to a recent 911 call about a man threatening his ex-girlfriend, a police operator in headquarters consulted software that scored the suspect’s potential for violence the way a bank might run a credit report.

The program scoured billions of data points, including arrest reports, property records, commercial databases, deep Web searches and the man’s social- media postings. It calculated his threat level as the highest of three color-coded scores: a bright red warning.

The man had a firearm conviction and gang associations, so out of caution police called a negotiator. The suspect surrendered, and police said the intelligence helped them make the right call — it turned out he had a gun.

Hard to blame the police for wanting to know as much as possible before going in. I sure as heck would. And you have to hope such foreknowledge obviates those overkill responses when they they go in with the wrong worst-case assumptions. Then again, your "opponent" always gets a vote, and once criminals know full well that any approaching police will have their backstory in hand, that may well push them to go uptempo much more quickly. So, this knowledge will alter behavior on both sides. But, have no doubt, Big Data will transform policing like it's transforming everything else. Policing is essentially a service industry, and in service industries, it is highly advantageous to know as much as you can about your customers/clients so that you can tailor your efforts to the maximum degree.

“This is something that’s been building since September 11,” said Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “First funding went to the military to develop this technology, and now it has come back to domestic law enforcement. It’s the perfect storm of cheaper and easier-to-use technologies and money from state and federal governments to purchase it.”

The piece goes on to profile the Real Time Crime Center currently being used by the Fresno (CA) Police Department:

On 57 monitors that cover the walls of the center, operators zoomed and panned an array of roughly 200 police cameras perched across the city. They could dial up 800 more feeds from the city’s schools and traffic cameras, and they soon hope to add 400 more streams from cameras worn on officers’ bodies and from thousands from local businesses that have surveillance systems.

The cameras were only one tool at the ready. Officers could trawl a private database that has recorded more than 2 billion scans of vehicle licenses plates and locations nationwide. If gunshots were fired, a system called ShotSpotter could triangulate the location using microphones strung around the city. Another program, called Media Sonar, crawled social media looking for illicit activity. Police used it to monitor individuals, threats to schools and hashtags related to gangs . . .

But perhaps the most controversial and revealing technology is the threat-scoring software Beware. Fresno is one of the first departments in the nation to test the program.

But here's where it gets supremely tricky:

Exactly how Beware calculates threat scores is something that its maker, Intrado, considers a trade secret, so it is unclear how much weight is given to a misdemeanor, felony or threatening comment on Facebook. However, the program flags issues and provides a report to the user.

I can't wait for the lawsuits on that one. All you need is one over-reaction based on somebody's algorithm, resulting in deadly police shooting, and wham! You've got a big-time political controversy that won't be tamped down with a plea of "proprietary data."

I have to think that, it's one thing for private corporations to act that way on defense weapons/platforms/etc., but quite another thing for such products to hold significant sway in the world of law enforcement - where victims have all manner of legal recourse.

Something definitely to watch as it unfolds.


Article originally appeared on Thomas P.M. Barnett (http://thomaspmbarnett.com/).
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