CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ferguson on Policing Predictive Policing

Ferguson andrewAndrew Guthrie Ferguson (University of the District of Columbia - David A. Clarke School of Law) has posted Policing Predictive Policing (Washington University Law Review, Vol. 94, Forthcoming) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Predictive policing is sweeping the nation, promising the holy grail of policing – preventing crime before it happens. Police have embraced predictive analytics and data-driven metrics to improve law enforcement tactics, practice, and strategy. Predictive “hot spots” become targets for intensive police surveillance. Targeted “hot people” become suspects. In big cities and small towns, data-based predictions drive police patrol schedules. Risk assessment algorithms target suspicious individuals. Increased data collection fuels a growing feedback loop requiring more robust data crunching systems.

All of these predictive innovations share one thing in common: a belief that crime can be understood by identifying and analyzing crime patterns and risk factors. The insight that risk can be isolated, analyzed, and forecast to deter criminal behavior has led to the creation of a new industry of predictive policing companies. Small start-ups and huge technology corporations are contracting with cities to provide predictive services. New products designed to study crime, social media patterns, and other clues are in development. Federal grants are financing pilot projects. Cities are investing millions in unproven predictive software. And, at this particular moment in American history with a heightened awareness of racial disparity in the criminal justice system, predictive policing has been promoted as a data-driven, race-neutral, objective solution to the failed policing policies of the past.

Predictive policing raises profound questions about the nature of predictive analytics and the attached article is the first sustained practical and theoretical critique of predictive policing. Questions of data collection, methodology, transparency, accountability, security, vision, and practical implementation emerge from this move toward actuarial justice. Building off a wealth of theoretical insights from scholars who have addressed the rise of risk assessment throughout the criminal justice system, this article provides an analytical framework to police not just predictive policing, but all future predictive technologies.

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