The Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners invited some of its harshest critics to give formal presentations Tuesday on their opposition to the police department’s data-driven “predictive policing” efforts before directing the Office of the Inspector General to conduct a formal review of all data programs.
Two groups that are frequently critical of the Los Angeles Police Department — the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California — frequently have members speak during the public comment section of commission meetings and offer their opinions, but were formally granted time Tuesday to outline their opposition to many of the department’s programs that use data to impact policing efforts.
The groups argued the programs are misguided attempts at crime prevention that can lead to the justification of the discrimination of minority groups.
“It is important that these programs be understood, that they be transparent and effective, but that they also be accountable,” said Commissioner Cynthia-McClain-Hill, who chaired the meeting. “And that involves some outside and some independent review of what is taking place to ensure that it is both: that these programs and strategies are constitutional, that they are implemented in a bias-free manner, that we are looking at the impacts of these various strategies on communities, that we are assessing not just the benefit but the cost, and any significant cost to public trust is something that we should take very, very seriously.”
The LAPD uses a number of predictive programs to focus crime-fighting efforts in certain neighborhoods by analyzing data. Two that were frequently criticized by the groups was the LASER program and PrepPol, which both began in 2011.
LASER informs officers where crimes are likely to occur and tracks ex-convicts and people they believe are most likely to commit crimes through technology, including cell phone trackers and license plate scanners. By using data, including if a person is a parolee or has ever been arrested, the LASER program generates a Chronic Offender Bulletin, which lists people the data says are most likely to commit a crime, even though they are not suspected in any specific crime or crimes.
The PredPol program analyzes data about when and where crimes have occurred to identify “hot spots” in the city where certain types of crimes are more likely to be committed on a given day.
The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition filed a lawsuit against the city in February, seeking information on the LASER program that the group said it had been denied through a Public Records Act request.
With programs like LASER and PredPol, “race and racial profiling is central to these programs, and in the process [is] how communities are pathologized, how they are demonized, and how they are criminalized,” said Hamid Khan of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition.
Although the LAPD said race is not used directly in the data, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition argued that certain information such as parolee data and gang member identification allows the LAPD to racially profile using “proxy” data, because Latinos and blacks represent a high percentage of those tracked groups.
The meeting came less than a month after LAPD Chief Michel Moore was formally sworn into office. During his career, Moore has been considered one of the department’s top experts on using data and analyzing crime statistics, but said he was open to the department’s data programs being scrutinized and analyzed.
“The support of critically analyzing the impact and the utility of PredPol as well as LASER, both … systems which are subject to criticism, is something that I welcome,” Moore said. “I welcome whether it be by the Office of the Inspector General, or … I will see that we will do this analysis internally, as well.”
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