Police departments in various cities in the United States and Great Britain secretly signed contracts with PredPol, the developer of an ambiguous and untested crime prediction program.
This fact was noticed by Motherboard journalists, who analyzed documents received on the basis of archival requests, in particular, contracts, instructions and program presentations, as well as emails discussing the terms of the contract between representatives of PredPol and heads of police departments in at least 15 cities and municipalities of the United States and Great Britain.
PredPol claims that it uses an algorithm to calculate the probability of crime in an urban area measuring 150 × 150 meters.
Predictions are compiled on the basis of statistics on the crimes committed in the same place and at the same time. The forecast can be obtained for the next 3, 7, 14 or 28 days. Based on this information, a police patrol can be sent there in the hope that the system was not mistaken and that it would be necessary to prevent the offense.
“We use data on crimes for 3 – 10 years and run them through our algorithm,” explains the representatives of ProdPol. “Short-term and long-term trends, relapses and environmental factors are all taken into account.”
Prevention also helps potential offenders. “They have another opportunity to avoid conflict with the law enforcement system,” ProdPol says.
Criminologists, however, believe that this approach does not guarantee more effective patrolling of areas. Shahid Buttar, director of the human rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), believes that the predictive technologies are inevitably biased, because such are the data with which they work.
If you send more police into one area, more crimes will be found there. Then the AI predicts that this is a very criminogenic place.
Andrew Ferguson, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia, stresses: we don’t know if the algorithm helps reduce crime. Objective scientific data are too few, there are no studies on this topic. “We are talking about the police, and people in the USA die at the hands of the police every day,” he said.
In the autumn, it became known that Kent County police terminated the contract with PredPol, which cost taxpayers $128,000 a year. They decided that the algorithm, although predicting crimes, did not help to prevent them very effectively. However, police like the idea of the new AI , but not the price. So now they have undertaken to independently develop similar software.