Militarized Officers, Predictive Policing Draw Ire, Concern

Image: Militarized Officers, Predictive Policing Draw Ire, Concern Police watch demonstrators during protests in Ferguson, Missouri on Aug. 19. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Wednesday, 20 Aug 2014 10:33 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Some police departments are starting to arm officers "like we're sending them to war" and use "big data analytics" to predict crime hot spots – but the combination won't fix the kind of problems roiling Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of a fatal police shooting of an unarmed teenager, Defense One reported Wednesday.

"The combination of police armed with military equipment using big data analytics not just to break up street demonstrations but to keep them from ever happening is a trend that's invisibly increasing," the news site reports.

But, it writes, "Neither big data nor AR-15s will fix any of the long-term issues that plague our criminal justice system or change the way many cops interact with residents in poor neighborhoods."

The government allows the Defense Department to transfer military equipment to law enforcement, and the shocking sight of heavily armed Ferguson police officers has been widely publicized.

Yet one of the "most important new weapons" police departments are experimenting with is "predictive policing – the use of data and statistics to determine the location, and possibly even the perpetrators, of crime," Defense One reports.

"It's a trend that's sweeping police departments across America," the news site reports.

New York and Memphis both employ the practice, Defense One points out – and both had dramatic drops in crime, though in New York, a controversial stop-and-frisk policy was later deemed unconstitutional. 

Memphis used predictive policing "wisely," the news site reports.

There, Richard Janikowski, an associate professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Memphis, studied "the where and when of crime" and found a correlation between crime and low-income housing.

As a result, police used mapping software to "better capture and disseminate crime data," Defense One reports.

"In addition to weather patterns, seasonality and area demographics, they could also model lighting conditions with a particular focus on garages and alleys," Defense One reports.

"They looked at when big local employers issued paychecks by time of the week, the month, year, and what times of day people went to and left work."

"As more departments begin to use such programs and share information about which variables and tools are most useful, these programs could get a lot better very quickly," the news site reports.

"The predictive policing program in Memphis . . . [has] attracted far fewer complaints and legal challenges—and essentially none of the controversy that has attached itself to other programs."

Defense One reports that police meetings with the public also helped.

"[W]e can use data to make neighborhoods safer and improve police-community relations, or we can continue to arm police like we're sending them to war," Defense One writes.

"Attempting to do both at once won't work."

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