Florida Cops Sued for Hassling People Over Crimes They Might Commit in the Future
Predictive policing—a concept seemingly pulled straight from the 2002 popcorn flick Minority Report—has become increasingly hot with law enforcement agencies over the past decade. The field tempts budget-minded officeholders and cops alike with its science-y promise to forecast where crimes will occur in the future and who will commit them, targeting risk while minimizing wasted resources. But it also holds the potential to justify hassling people based on what a computer program and biases entered as data say they might someday do. That’s the basis of a recent lawsuit charging that a Florida sheriff’s department has used predictive policing to harass the innocent.
“Predictive policing is the use of analytical techniques to identify promising targets for police intervention with the goal of preventing crime, solving past crimes, and identifying potential offenders and victims,” according to a 2013 RAND Corporation report. Even in those early days of the field, though, the report acknowledged that “[t]he very act of labeling areas and people as worthy of further law enforcement attention inherently raises concerns about civil liberties and privacy rights.”
In 2012, Reason‘s Ron Bailey observed that the developing field had some promise. But he warned that “[t]he accuracy of predictive policing programs depends on the accuracy of the information they are fed” and that “we should always keep in mind that any new technology that helps the police to better protect citizens can also be used to better oppress them.”
Fast-forward a few years, and we have those concerns fulfilled in spades.
“Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco took office in 2011 with a bold plan: to create a cutting-edge intelligence program that could stop crime before it happened,” the Tampa Bay Times reported last September. “What he actually built was a system to continuously monitor and harass Pasco County residents.”
How does the Pasco County program live up to everybody’s worst fears of acting on predictions of what people haven’t done but might do?
“First the Sheriff’s Office generates lists of people it considers likely to break the law, based on arrest histories, unspecified intelligence and arbitrary decisions by police analysts,” the newspaper’s report noted. “Then it sends deputies to find and interrogate anyone whose name appears, often without probable cause, a search warrant or evidence of a specific cr
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