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A New Era in Policing? by Surf City Revolt

Surf City Revolt writes:

News of “Predictive Policing” first surfaced around the new year. Hailed as the next generation of policing, it seeks to direct police resources to “times and places” where there is a greater likelihood of crime being committed. Sometime in January, the Santa Cruz Police Department finished submitting crime reports from the last eight years to George Mohler, a mathematics professor at Santa Clara University. Santa Cruz is the first city in the nation to embrace this model. In Mohler’s own words: “The more you put police in areas where there is more crime, the more efficiently you’re policing the city.” The Sentinel article about SCPD’s adoption of the program can be found here. In this article, rather than rehashing what has already been said, we will emphasize the unstated significance of predictive policing and point towards ways to frustrate, antagonize, or just operate within a town that will try to predict your crime before you commit it.

New Smell, Same Shit

Since at least some future police reports will be a product of predictive policing, while the analytics that power predictive policing are fed by prior police reports, it is likely that the predictive policing will create reinforcing feedback loops. As predictive policing recognizes a concentration of criminal activity, it will direct police resources towards that concentration. The concentration can be geographical, like the Bonesio’s Parking Lot, and also have a temporal dimension, like closing time. By directing police patrols towards these locations, the police can harass, detain, or arrest people more efficiently. Their actions result in police reports that get funneled back into the predictive policing analytics, further concentrating crime in these already targeted areas.

By targeting places where crime is already reported, predictive policing increases social division: bad neighborhoods are further ghettoized, while pressure it taken off good neighborhoods. Kids in the upper westside take “d-methamphetamine” (marketed as Deoxsyn for ADHD) to get high and feel good, while those trapped in desperate circumstances smoke dirty crystal for the same reasons. One group is mostly ignored by police, while the other is criminalized. Predictive policing further concentrates police pressure on the more targeted group. This is not to say that the ideal solution is some equitable form of policing, only that existing social divisions are further sharpened by this program.

At least some of the inspiration for predictive policing comes from the success of computer analytics in determining the actions of consumers. As Police Chief Magazine reports:

Advanced analytics are used in almost every segment of society to improve service and optimize resources. Some examples include customer loyalty programs that track purchases and provide specifically targeted coupons that are based on recent or related purchases and algorithms that create models of customer preferences and recommend products to similar customer groups.

In every corner of our lives, data is being collected about us and our actions. These data storehouses have been utilized to sell us consumer goods tailored to our specific tastes. Now, these databases are becoming fodder for the predictive policing analytics. In a Department of Justice bulletin on Community-Oriented Policing, the first “tool” listed in a “predictive policing toolbox” was to: “Identify data from other agencies (e.g., schools and hospitals) that may be useful for predictive policing analyses”. Predictive Policing might be the bridge between the warehousing of personal and relational data and the always-tightening clampdown of social control. Advanced analytics, of course, have always been part of the police toolkit, but until now they have been reserved for large operations, usually run by federal agencies. Now, the same techniques are becoming available at local levels.

As these techniques trickle down to local agencies, coupled with Jerry Brown’s restructuring towards local government, police are realizing that “community” initiatives are of increasing importance. If the police are going to be on your block constantly, they want to do it with a smiling face. Put differently, they want to avoid being a target for the antagonism they deserve.

Defenders of predictive policing say that it doesn’t target individuals, only locations. But you’d be blind if you couldn’t see that different areas are defined by the presence of different social groups. For instance, one distinct group of people hangs out on the Pasatiempo Golf Course while another hangs out outside the laundromat on Barson St. This new advance in policing is only a new excuse to do what police have always done: reinforce class divisions and quarantine “undesirable” social groups.

Responding to Predictive Policing

One clear way to avoid or frustrate the mechanisms of predictive policing is to follow the good ol’ criminal adage–Don’t shit where you eat. By taking crime out of the neighborhoods where we live, perhaps we can lessen the pressure on those places. One study of predictive policing found a correlation with the number of housing code violations in a neighborhood and the amount of burglary. Basically, people were burglarizing poor neighborhoods, which rationalized a police presence in those places. By decreasing “broke-on-broke crime,“ we are also fighting an increase of police patrols. For an interesting primer on how rich people defend against burglary, we here at SCR would recommend Jack MacLean’s Secrets of a Superthief. He robbed exclusively from rich neighborhoods and did it with mad style.

Beyond doing crime intelligently, we also have the capacity to disrupt the community aspects of policing. While there are infinite possibilities for this, here are three interesting departure points for you and your crew. The friendly face of community policing is sugary icing on a cake of shit. It’s important to show the entire idea of “policing” as rotten at its core and to fight police attempts to insert themselves into neighborhood dialogue.

First, the local example. On March 13th, about 60 folks got together at Grant St. Park to barbecue “for a world without police.” There was a free wall for graffiti, dank grub, and an awesome Know Your Rights workshop. By initiating conversations in the places we live, we can clarify our own position and make friends with our neighbors who feel similarly.

Secondly, we can disrupt the police department’s attempts to legitimize itself. In Modesto, comrades staged a disruption of a police accreditation meeting. At a time when the MPD was attempting to pat itself on the back, people made sure everyone remembered that the MPD were murderers.

Lastly, comrades in Vancouver, BC, took space back from Community Policing efforts with a concerted vandalism campaign. Eventually, the community policing center was forced to relocate. Community police forces can often act as the vanguard of gentrification, making a place more digestible to yuppies. Here is one of many ways that activity directed against the police intersects with other struggles.

Obviously, different forms of resistance are applicable to different contexts. Santa Cruz is the pilot city for a program that has the potential to change the shape of modern policing. With our shoulder to the wheel, let’s make it a failure.


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