Police in Chicago have resorted to using a new Big Brother-style “pre-crime” computer that tells them who they should arrest, based on an algorithm that does all the work for them.
The Chicago Police Department are using a new algorithm to determine which members of the public should be “targeted” – eliminating the old fashioned need for detective work and evidence.
Each individual on the list is provided a score based on arrests, shootings, affiliations with gangs, and other variables. The intent of the list is to predict who is next to be shot, or shoot someone, and once the list is updated, authorities then go visit individuals with the highest scores at their home. The individuals are then told that they’re on the list, and that they are being monitored the NYT reports.
In this city’s urgent push to rein in gun and gang violence, the Police Department is keeping a list. Derived from a computer algorithm that assigns scores based on arrests, shootings, affiliations with gang members and other variables, the list aims to predict who is most likely to be shot soon or to shoot someone.
The police have been using the list, in part, to choose individuals for visits, known as “custom notifications.” Over the past three years, police officers, social workers and community leaders have gone to the homes of more than 1,300 people with high numbers on the list. Mr. Johnson, the police superintendent, says that officials this year are stepping up those visits, with at least 1,000 more people.
During these visits — with those on the list and with their families, girlfriends and mothers — the police bluntly warn that the person is on the department’s radar. Social workers who visit offer ways out of gangs, including drug treatment programs, housing and job training.
“We let you know that we know what’s going on,” said Christopher Mallette, the executive director of the Chicago Violence Reduction Strategy, a leader in the effort. “You know why we’re here. We don’t want you to get killed.”
Authorities assume that by narrowing down the key players that are most likely to be involved in violence will allow them to stop it. Of course, civil liberties being irrelevant in today’s world, the program is in use already. Police superintendent Eddie Johnson says that there is a small segment of people driving the violence, and although homicides are on the rise after three years of the program, the “Strategic Subject List” generated by the fourth revision of the algorithm is the answer to stopping them. Supporters of the program point to statistics such as 117 of the 140 people arrested in a drug and gang raid last week being on the list.
“We know we have a lot of violence in Chicago, but we also know there’s a small segment that’s driving this stuff,” Eddie Johnson, the police superintendent, said in a recent interview.
The authorities hope that knowing who is most likely to be involved in violence can bring them a step closer to curtailing it. They are warning those highest on the list that they are under intense scrutiny, while offering social services to those who want a path away from the bloodshed.
About three years into the program and on a fourth revision of the computer algorithm that generates the list, critics are raising pointed questions about potential breaches to civil liberties in the creation of such a ranking. And the list’s efficacy remains in doubt as killings and shootings have continued to rise this year.
In a city of 2.7 million people, about 1,400 are responsible for much of the violence, Mr. Johnson said, and all of them are on the department’s “Strategic Subject List.”
In a broad drug and gang raid carried out last week amid a disturbing uptick this year in shootings and murders, the Police Department said that 117 of the 140 people arrested were on the list. And in one recent report on homicides and shootings over a two-day stretch, nearly everyone involved was on the list.
“We are targeting the correct individuals,” Mr. Johnson said. “We just need our judicial partners and our state legislators to hold these people accountable.”
The algorithm was created by Miles Wernick, a professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Wernick says that while many variables are used to generate the list, the model avoids race, gender, ethnicity, and geography.
Miles Wernick, a professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, created the algorithm.
It draws, the police say, on variables tied to a person’s past behavior, particularly arrests and convictions, to predict who is most likely to become a “party to violence.”
The police cite proprietary technology as the reason they will not make public the 10 variables used to create the list, but say that some examples include questions like: Have you been shot before? Is your “trend line” for crimes increasing or decreasing? Do you have an arrest for weapons?
Dr. Wernick says the model intentionally avoids using variables that could discriminate in some way, like race, gender, ethnicity and geography.
While it makes sense to use technology in order to prevent and solve crimes, the use of a ‘Minority Report’-esque algorithm to generate “strategic subject lists” wreaks of infringing on individual’s civil liberties. Then again, since when do civil liberties matter anymore. Also, as everything is now just being funneled into one big data warehouse that nobody is allowed to know anything about anyway, at least the Chicago Police Department admits to the targeting.
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