A controversial Los Angeles Police Department program that uses data to identify individuals who are most likely to commit violent crimes will be ended by Chief Michel Moore, according to a memo presented Tuesday to the Board of Police Commissioners.
The five-page memo was made publicly available on Friday ahead of the meeting and came in response to a critical audit by Inspector General Mark Smith, which found the department’s data analysis programs lacked oversight and officers used inconsistent criteria to deem people as “chronic offenders.” The overall effectiveness of a component to pinpoint the location of certain property crimes could not be determined, the audit found.
The cancellation of the chronic offender program comes after Moore suspended it in August of last year.
The chronic offender bulletins “did not bear the types of results that in the face of its criticism and the face of concerns relative to whether or not the underlying algorithm truly was fair and unbiased for us to continue going forward,” Moore said during an oral report to the board.
The LAPD has used several data-based tools in recent years, including the LASER program and PredPol. Both programs began in 2011 and have been criticized by some civil-rights advocates who claim they can lead to discrimination against minority groups.
Smith said the primary finding of the report “unfortunately is that these programs lack some consistency in how they are being used throughout the department, how data was being tracked across the department.”
As to the Chronic Offender program, Smith’s report said “the format of the available data made it difficult, in some cases, to determine which activities were being conducted as the result of the program, and to assess the program’s overall impact.”
LASER is designed to inform officers where crimes are likely to occur and tracks ex-convicts and people who are considered most likely to commit crimes through technology, including cell phone trackers and license plate scanners. By using data, including whether 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.
The PredPol — short for “predictive policing” — 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 Chronic Offender portion of the LASER program was suspended in August 2018, along with the use of the associated tracking database, according to the report. That same month, the commission held a public hearing on the programs and invited some of its harshest critics to give formal presentations on their opposition to them.
Although the LAPD has said race is not used directly in the data, members of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition argued at several commission meetings that certain information such as parolee data and gang member identification allows the department to racially profile using “proxy” data, because Latinos and blacks represent a high percentage of those tracked groups.
The end result, the groups argued, is the justification of using data to discriminate against minority groups. Smith’s report found that the overall racial makeup of individuals labeled in the chronic offender program are comparable to the demographics of those arrested for violent crimes in the city.
“What we are talking about is a language that reduces people to data-driven policing,” Hamid Khan of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition told the commission in March. “It goes back to plantation capitalism, and remains plantation capitalism. People are numbers, people are statistics.”
Moore’s memo said the department would work to retool the location-based programs, including the exploration of a way to identify smaller, “micro” hot spots of approximately 500 by 500 feet in order to allocate resources to a specific problem and area.
The decision to continue exploring the use of location-based programs did not sit well with members of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition and other activists, some of whom repeatedly interrupted the meeting by shouting from the audience.
“You can twist it, you can give it a different name, you can do whatever, it will still bring up the same results. It’s still going to quarantine black and brown bodies,” Khan said during comments before the board.
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