US Experience With Predictive Policing and ‘dirty data’: Treat it With Skepticism

Study. At least 13 jurisdictions in the US are currently using predictive policing systems or have previously been engaged in predictive policing pilots. An examination of the implications of using dirty data with predictive policing shows an elevated risks of arriving at flawed, biased, and unlawful prediction. 

Law enforcement agencies are increasingly using algorithmic predictive policing systems to forecast criminal activity and allocate police resources. Yet in numerous jurisdictions, these systems are built on data produced within the context of flawed, racially fraught and sometimes unlawful practices (‘dirty policing’).  This can include systemic data manipulation, falsifying police reports, unlawful use of force, planted evidence, and unconstitutional searches.

The AI Now Institute and New York University compared the substantiated evidence and other findings of unlawful or biased police practices from the Department of Justice investigations or federal court adjudications with publicly available information regarding the jurisdiction’s use of predictive policing systems to determine whether the police data used to train or implement the predictive policing system(s) was generated during the periods of unlawful and biased police activity.

Chicago was an example of a jurisdiction where they found strong evidence that suggests the predictive policing system was using dirty data. Second, New Orleans was an example of a jurisdiction where the extensive dirty policing practices suggest an extremely high likelihood that any predictive policing application would be heavily influenced by dirty data yet because the public has been blocked from proper transparency and accountability mechanisms, the extent of the problem is not fully known.

Deploying predictive policing systems in jurisdictions with extensive histories of unlawful police practices presents elevated risks that dirty data will lead to flawed, biased, and unlawful predictions which in turn risk perpetuating additional harm via feedback loops throughout the criminal justice system. Thus, for any jurisdiction where police have been found to engage in such practices, the use of predictive policing in any context must be treated with skepticism and mechanisms for the public to examine and reject such systems are imperative.

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