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Welcome to the Chicago Precrime Department
February 25, 2014 8:45 PM   Subscribe

When the Chicago Police Department sent one of its commanders to Robert McDaniel’s home last summer, the 22-year-old high school dropout was surprised. Though he lived in a neighborhood well-known for bloodshed on its streets, he hadn’t committed a crime or interacted with a police officer recently. And he didn’t have a violent criminal record, nor any gun violations. In August, he incredulously told the Chicago Tribune, "I haven't done nothing that the next kid growing up hadn't done.” Yet, there stood the female police commander at his front door with a stern message: if you commit any crimes, there will be major consequences. We’re watching you.
posted by pjern (70 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
While I have no time at all for this kind of pre crime stuff, the article would be more convincing if they were more upfront about McDaniel's actual violations, as opposed to just saying he hadn't had committed a crime or had any interactions with the police 'recently' and hadn't committed any violent or gun crimes. What does 'recently' mean? What crimes HAD he committed? Burglary? Selling drugs? Who knows?
posted by sweet mister at 8:52 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]


What crimes HAD he committed?
McDaniel, for instance, likely made the list in spite of his limited criminal background — misdemeanor arrests on suspicion of gambling, drug possession and domestic battery — because a childhood friend with whom he had once been arrested on a marijuana charge was fatally shot last year in Austin.
posted by zamboni at 9:00 PM on February 25 [6 favorites]


Touchy subject. What I would like to see is money invested in stopping crime on the front end - you know: early childhood education; accessible sex education;well-distributed prenatal care and clinics; serious financial investment in poverty stricken areas; effective parenting and counseling services; gun laws that keep guns and other dangerous weapons off the street; effective job training and job opportunities; legalizing drugs; effective rehabilitation and job training while incarcerated; good halfway house programs; etc. Until that happens we are always going to see what has always been the case. Poverty and ignorance breed crime - color isn't the issue.
posted by Vibrissae at 9:01 PM on February 25 [18 favorites]


It's probably an accurate predictor of who will commit certain kinds of crimes given previous police interactions. But it's going to ignore entire other kinds of crimes, like who is most likely to be a serial date rapist in college or be a white collar criminal at a bank, and that don't come with previous police interactions.

And in that basic decision of what kinds of crimes to look at and what kinds of data to pull from, you get a racially biased system. I'm sure race isn't a category that the predictive algorithms use, but the underlying data sounds entirely racially tinged, and so of course the predictive system is going to produce racially biased results, without at the same time necessarily producing false results.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:08 PM on February 25 [24 favorites]


I see this as yet one more example of technological advances, specifically the availability of computing power, resulting in a return to authoritarian ways of relating with human beings, not technology being the progressive force of transformation that it is so easily claimed to be. One can debate in great detail the soundness and completeness of their particular implementation, but in the end it's high tech in the hands of the incompetent.
posted by polymodus at 9:13 PM on February 25 [7 favorites]


There's more about the theory behind it in this Chicago Mag article:
One of the great dilemmas in criminology—and its substantial overlap with public health issues—is developing strategies for the medium-term. Traditional law enforcement and programs like CeaseFire are largely short-term, highly-targeted strategies; pre-K, pre- and post-natal care, job programs, and so forth are long-term, broad strategies.

Social-network theory, as it develops, could provide a foundation for medium-term strategies, providing a map for how public services can flow along social connections. If almost half of a city’s homicide victims can be followed into a social community that’s at ten times the risk of the already high-risk geographical community they live in, it gives both the police and public-services a place to start.

And a place to start for gathering more data—as Papachristos points out, his analysis is limited to people doing bad things. Robert Sampson, the Harvard (by way of Chicago) sociologist, has done pioneering work, most recently in his book Great American City, showing how positive social networks reduce crime and improve public-health outcomes in socially-organized neighborhoods like Chatham. Another possible implication is figuring out what kinds of networks “inoculate” people from violence.

“If I had blue-sky data and a bunch of money, I would really treat it like an infectious disease. I would do what we did with AIDS in the ’80s and ’90s, which is where you find a case—someone gets shot—you flood that part of the network with services,” Papachristos says. “So, God forbid, you get shot, people show up–they learn about you, they check you in. What do you need? Oh, you have kids? Where are your kids, who’s watching them? What do they need? Are they in school? Do you need help?”
posted by zamboni at 9:16 PM on February 25 [20 favorites]


"if you commit any crimes, there will be major consequences."

"If you end up on that list, there’s a reason you’re there."


This seems to land somewhere between intimidation and a complicated Tautology Delivery System.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:16 PM on February 25 [24 favorites]


Touchy subject.

Not really, there's this thing where you're presumed innocent. It's all pretty clear.

"If you end up on that list, there’s a reason you’re there."

"... And institutional racism doesn't count I can't hear you lalalalala" he did not add.
posted by mhoye at 9:20 PM on February 25 [17 favorites]


Way back when, Oxford set up an expert system to look at graduate applications and make a best guess at who would excel if admitted. They fed it all their existing data as a corpus and let it go to town on the next year's applications.

It turned out to be quite the supporter of the Anglo-American relationship. Virtually all admissions were either from the U.S. or the U.K.

So they removed country of origin from the data and ran it again.

Same thing, apparently deriving location based on undergraduate school and scholarships.

Someone figured out that the system had noticed a strong correlation between native English speakers and thriving at Oxford. Oxford wanted diversity, so they went through and removed anything involving native language or location from the criteria.

The final run yielded the U.S. and U.K but also China.

How did the Chinese make the list? With all of the race and language and location data removed the attribute "short last name" had floated to the top of the list as the selector for native English speakers. There were just a lot of Chinese applicants who had short last names too.

(Needless to say the results were discarded and the experiment has not been repeated)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:20 PM on February 25 [35 favorites]


What really worries me is the possibility of a list like this getting into the hands of employers or insurers. I mean, sure, it's not public now, but is it really inconceivable that it would be some day? If a few nasty crimes are committed by people on the list, and the fact that they were on the list gets out, the public might clamor for access (theoretically in order to protect themselves), similar to how sex offender lists proliferated. And if they were made available, they'd get incorporated into standard background checks and such - the people on that list might end up unemployable and rejected by society, for things they haven't even done.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:30 PM on February 25 [10 favorites]


Papachristos says. “So, God forbid, you get shot, people show up–they learn about you, they check you in. What do you need? Oh, you have kids? Where are your kids, who’s watching them? What do they need? Are they in school? Do you need help?”

These are the sorts of questions concerned authority figures ask young parents before they take their children away from them (to protect them from their parents, often putting them in foster home conditions much more concerning).

If the police had a trust relationship with the communities they were policing, this sort of approach might be useful. But that academic seems to be discussing some sort of socialist society with a strong safety net - an wistful fiction.

The Chicago Police, however, does not have a reputation of having a good relationship with it's at-risk populations. (the beatings-for-confessions program was supposedly suspended though, so that's a plus).
posted by el io at 9:33 PM on February 25 [10 favorites]


pjern: “Yet, there stood the female police commander at his front door with a stern message: if you commit any crimes, there will be major consequences. We’re watching you.”
I understand what they're trying to accomplish, especially given the "Big Data" fad of recent years, but this seems tantamount to a police officer coming to his house and saying, "Time to move, McDaniels."
posted by ob1quixote at 9:40 PM on February 25 [4 favorites]


What upsets me is that, given something that they think is a predictor of what's going to make someone a criminal, they think that the appropriate thing is just to tell people, "Now, don't go committing any crimes, now!" Who on earth is that actually going to stop? At best, in a situation where the factors they found really were good predictors, it's like you found out there was going to be a snowstorm and you went out and shouted at the clouds for awhile instead of buying salt and stocking up on food. It's like finding out that somebody's social circle is getting infected with a contagious pathogen and then deciding that the best course of action is to just sit around and watch and rough up the people at risk of getting sick.
posted by Sequence at 9:42 PM on February 25 [10 favorites]


I am imagining a bunch of software engineers staring at a giant, glowing computer screen while they try to fine-tune PreCrime Predictor Pro: Nation-State Edition for International Law and Human Rights Violations. On paper, everything looks right, but the damn algorithm won't stop flagging the United States of America. "Run the simulation without regard for slavery, gun ownership, and wars of choice," says the lead engineer. "See what happens then."
posted by compartment at 9:43 PM on February 25 [31 favorites]


I am reminded of a YA dystopian novel I read as a tween - might have been John Carpenter's Tripod series? - in which the police show up at the protagonist's house to take away his five year old sister. "She's a pre-criminal," they say, "The tests have proved it." And off she goes to the labor camps or wherever it is you send five year old pre-criminals. I would very much like not to find out.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:47 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]


Watch Dogs: Invasion_ - Polygon's investigation of the surveillance technology being used by the real city of Chicago shows a truth uncomfortably close to the fiction.
posted by kaytwo at 9:52 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]


the people on that list might end up unemployable and rejected by society, for things they haven't even done.

Like being too old, or too ugly, or too fat, or too handicapped, or too disabled, or too jobless, or too homeless, or too anything that's not white-enough-peer-group-aligned-enough.
posted by pjern at 9:53 PM on February 25 [4 favorites]


Great, all the dimwitted bullies who cheated their way through high school now are clued into the power of "statistics". "If you end up on that list, there’s a reason you’re there." ... sigh.
posted by smidgen at 10:00 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]


Just wait until the Dominionists find a way to seize power and they start using this kind of work and technology to go after anyone who doesn't fit their Christian version of Sharia law.

THAT is why I am so fucking pissed off about the revelations that Snowden has given us. I will be up against the wall simply for existing.
posted by hippybear at 10:03 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]


What upsets me is that, given something that they think is a predictor of what's going to make someone a criminal, they think that the appropriate thing is just to tell people, "Now, don't go committing any crimes, now!" Who on earth is that actually going to stop?

The Verve article only mentions the admonitory part of the program. There's also some kind of support component, although it sounds pretty limited:
The strategy calls for warning those on the heat list individually that further criminal activity, even for the most petty offenses, will result in the full force of the law being brought down on them. At the same time, police extend them an olive branch of sorts, an offer of help obtaining a job or of social services.
posted by zamboni at 10:05 PM on February 25


A friend of mine hates supermarket "loyalty cards" for this reason - what happens when the Fourth Reich comes, and they can just see who buys Manischevitz wine by seizing the Food Lad database?
posted by thelonius at 10:11 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]


I'm glad I never pursued work in the Big Data field. It paid/pays well, but it's used so immorally. I'd never feel clean again.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:17 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


I would be down with this program if the police were informing likely perpetrators of wage theft that they were being watched. Everyone I know has been more affected by that particular crime than by street crime.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:20 PM on February 25 [10 favorites]


Perhaps they can offer them employment as police officers.
posted by smidgen at 10:29 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


That Watch Dogs link is fucking chilling. I had not heard about the Michael Scott suicide.
posted by benzenedream at 10:40 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


See, this sort of project is of course going to fall to racist biases because all it's intended to do is give a pseudo-scientific gloss to institutional bias. If not, why isn't used to spot potential financial criminals?
posted by MartinWisse at 10:47 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


There's some rhetorical sleight of hand when they talk about it not using race as a predictor, I think. Sure, I bet race isn't explicitly one of the variables -- but I'm sure they're not controlling for it, and I bet they have plenty of variables that correlate pretty well with race (especially in combination) that end up being highly weighted. So sure, they're not explicitly asking the classifier to consider race, but that's not the same thing as being "unbiased."

Moreover, as Dip Flash mentioned above, if, e.g., poor black people are more likely to be the targets of law enforcement, that's what's going to be in the training data.

I know very little about violent crime or law enforcement, so about the program in general I have a lot of unanswered questions. Like, let's be generous for a moment and say that this classifier is really good at identifying people who have been exposed to violent crime and who personally know people who were victims and/or aggressors. I could potentially see this being used with something like, say, a targeted mediation program to reduce violence. But how is showing up at their doorstep and antagonizing them going to help? Isn't part of the problem with gang violence that it forms a self-reinforcing machine that is hard to extricate yourself from? It seems to me like people in danger of being sucked into the web of gang violence would need help and other options a lot more than they need a stern lecture from Big Brother. Actually, it seems like being known as a target for law enforcement could even endanger them further.

Also, where are they getting the social network data they're running the classifier on? Is it geographical proximity? Data from online social networks? Informants?
posted by en forme de poire at 10:51 PM on February 25 [8 favorites]


Oh Philip K. Dick - speaking as a citizen of the future, I am so sorry to have to tell you that your paranoid, amphetamine-spiked delusions are coming true.

I am also sorry about Hollywood casting Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves in adaptations of your works.
posted by item at 10:52 PM on February 25 [5 favorites]


Couldn't have anything to do with institutionalized racism, poverty and lack of opportunity in Chicago, could it?

Couldn't have anything to do with world-class piece of shit Rahm Immanuel bulldozing schools in poor neighborhoods, could it?

Nope, the existence of black people must be the problem. Better send some cops to their homes to threaten them.

Fuck. This. Shit.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:53 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]


“...someone gets shot—you flood that part of the network with services,...people show up–they learn about you, they check you in. What do you need? Oh, you have kids? Where are your kids, who’s watching them? What do they need? Are they in school? Do you need help?”

In my city, anybody can tell you where the shootings occur, which neighborhoods are dangerous. Children get shot here. We don't even need the darn algorithm; everybody knows who is at risk. This article makes me want to cry because it's not going to happen the way Pappachristos describes. Nobody in law enforcement in my city or in Chicago thinks this way. Those people on the list, they are at just as much risk of getting shot as of shooting, aren't they? Yet this authoritarian preemptive strike attitude on the part of law enforcement doesn't even acknowledge the danger they are in. Those people know they are in danger; they've lost friends to violence all their lives. Poverty, ignorance, greed--these are the enemy.

This program will be used to target young black men and will be one more blow administered to them. Anybody who might have half a chance of making a life for himself will be punched back into place by that kind of visit from the law. If that's what we have to offer, it's adding insult to injury.
posted by Anitanola at 10:55 PM on February 25 [21 favorites]


Presuming that their expert system will disproportionately pick young black men, what would the legal consequences be? Would the fact that there is a rational basis for the selection (i.e., "we put all the data in the computer and it came up with these names") excuse the fact that it's effectively racist?
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:56 PM on February 25


OK, so reading some of the theory linked in zamboni's thread above there aren't really "predictors" beyond co-arrest with someone who was a homicide victim - it's a simple "guilt-by-association" approach, if more literally than that's usually meant. And indeed, it seems like the sociologist who helped build the system meant it to be complementary to things like mediation interventions, to fill the space between short- and long-term. So some of my concerns about surrogate predictors aren't relevant here, though of course it's still true that since poorer minorities are more likely both to be arrested and to be targets of gang violence, they almost certainly predominate in this "list."

Argh. The thing is, it sounds like if this were used as it's described in that article, it could actually be really valuable as a tool to help calm the cycle of retributive violence. But based on the FPP, it sounds like the result as implemented is sadly (if unsurprisingly) more like: computer makes prediction, cops proceed to go and treat that person like a pre-criminal. Which is not only unfair and unlikely to do any good, but is also rubbing salt in the wounds of people who after all, are likely to be on that list because they know someone who has recently been shot to death.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:27 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]


"...why isn't used to spot potential financial criminals?"

Because that's not what the police are there for. The police are for mob control and protection of the status quo. Property crime, personal violence, that kind of thing. It is always telling when a "peaceful" demonstration gets corralled and a few heads get busted for "resisting arrest" or for filming the police while they swing their billy clubs.

If you want someone to investigate financial crime, look at the FBI. Though, not right now, because they are too busy trying to compete for the limelight and budgetary funds that the D.H.S. is currently enjoying for creating their security theater show. I mean, they could go after financial criminals, if they had more money to fund the overtime and consulting fees to hire data mining and financial forensic accountants. It's not like they have any on staff anymore. You can't put an MP-5 into the hands of a beancounting forensic analyst and have them put on a good show for the visiting top brass with a "training exercise" in a major urban center and not have it look kind of pathetic.

Man, we really are just a bunch of primates wearing clothes sometimes, aren't we?
posted by daq at 11:29 PM on February 25 [5 favorites]


Anybody who might have half a chance of making a life for himself will be punched back into place by that kind of visit from the law.

From the article, it seems that anybody receiving "that kind of visit" has already had facetime with the police, this is probably their friendliest interaction yet. Anyway, why does such a visit ruin a person's "half a chance of making a life for himself"?
posted by amorphatist at 11:51 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]


As in previous threads on this program, I cannot specifically speak to the CPD usage of this program other than the presented material. I can comment on what our local police are doing along the same lines. I'm pretty sure their list is wholly human-generated, but it's basically guys who are in the same sort of nexus -- gang affiliation, perhaps some jail time, and already well known to the cops, even if they haven't yet been the focus of a violent crime investigation (fortunately, in my community, this is comparatively rare and tends to involve mostly fist fights with the occasional warning shots; I'm kept up to date on things because my neighborhood group covers the area two blocks from my house where one of those incidents took place). The intent is to develop one-on-one relationships with the gang unit officers so that they can assess further risk factors and intervene as much as possible. For instance, one guy had lost his job and was hanging out more with his old gang friends, so they worked their personal network and got him hooked up with another job. Others are advised to move from the neighborhood, avoid drugs and alcohol, and such as believed appropriate for their situation. It's pretty much what probation officers already do, except these are people who are not under the jurisdiction of a court and thus not obligated to comply. My sense is that this program has been a big help in keeping down open gang activity and the negatives associated with that, which has been a top concern of our neighborhood group. It's been a while since we've had a yard that's overrun daily with guys in gang colors or a situation where one group of youths runs into another group of youths in an intersection and a small atomic explosion ensues. We're still watching that block near my house, though (last summer they had to extract a guy using tear gas and the county's armored SWAT vehicle, and there was a heroin arrest this month). By the way, while we have black, Hispanic, and Asian gang members, we're a majority white city and many of those gang members are white (like the very Caucasian Gangster Disciple that lives kitty-korner from our house, currently on probation and behaving himself).

I hate to say that I don't mind the civil liberties penumbra issues associated here; and I certainly worry about a secret police force equipped for political persecution would be using these same tools. But we do know that 80% of the crime is committed by 20% of the people, and we do know that waiting until the crime happens can mean people are injured or dead (not to mention the other stuff like drug addiction or property crime). There's got to be a better way of keeping our cities safe.

Yeah, I know this is MeFi where the consensus is a lot closer to Don't Trust / Talk to the Police, but the Police, at least not the ones here, are not the ones who smashed my head open or mugged me. We don't have an era where beat cops walk their routes and know every person's history anymore. Maybe there are best practices here [yes, there actually are], and maybe there are things to avoid or things that corrupt or traditionally biased or poorly-managed departments would be prone to fall into no matter what the front office says, but in Chicago particularly we're looking at a continuing epidemic of violence that has not declined the way it has in other cities. Most of that violence is not happening in the white neighborhoods, either. There have to be interventions in the communities where the violence is happening, and those might even end up being (locally) 100% minority. But most of the victims are minority as well, and I certainly don't think the interventions favored by the right, like more George Zimmermans, are the answer either.
posted by dhartung at 12:50 AM on February 26 [10 favorites]


Man, we really are just a bunch of primates wearing clothes sometimes, aren't we?

Primates have issued a press release stating:

"Hell no. If you were us, you wouldn't be a stupid racist."
posted by hal_c_on at 12:58 AM on February 26 [5 favorites]


I am imagining a bunch of software engineers staring at a giant, glowing computer screen while they try to fine-tune PreCrime Predictor Pro

"Working closely with the Customer Care team..."
posted by rhizome at 1:22 AM on February 26 [1 favorite]


but in Chicago particularly we're looking at a continuing epidemic of violence that has not declined the way it has in other cities.

Well it's not like the sociopolitical leadership in Chicago has a history of setting a good respect-for-the-law example for its citizens. That they often get away with it is just icing on the irony cake. Maybe aspirations for elected office can be thrown into the precrime mix as a precursor signal.
posted by rhizome at 1:26 AM on February 26


Would the fact that there is a rational basis for the selection (i.e., "we put all the data in the computer and it came up with these names") excuse the fact that it's effectively racist?

Well, that's why this project exists after all, to give that scientific gloss to racism and existing police biases. Because Chicago's PD is of course racist (we know that because it's a) the police b) in a major American city) and because the majority if not all of the data is provided by them, based on what are already racist/classist assumptions about crime, who commits it, which crimes are important and what to investigate/prosecute, the way this data analysis and subsequent policy works cannot help but be racist and classist.

I would expect that police departments that are going to use this will want to do this because it offers the veneer of impartiality -- "computer says criminal" -- with perhaps not a few boosters of this indeed hoping that making these sorts of crime prediction programmes will indeed help overcome institutional racism because the judgment and biases of individual cops will matter less.

As dhartung notes above in his comment, programmes like this can work when implemented correctly, but I have the feeling that this can only be the case if done on a sufficiently small scale and with a lot of intelligent, human guiding.

At the same time, even when it does work, what this sort of project can do is only help prevent more of the same sort of crime that the police on its own can already be fairly effective at preventing/investigating, like the gang activity dhartung talks about. The value of this is not to be sneered at, but it won't help as much with new crimes or criminal activity that hasn't been a police priority. One wonders for example how effective this could be for preventing rapes or financial crimes.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:27 AM on February 26 [4 favorites]


based on what are already racist/classist assumptions about crime, who commits it, which crimes are important and what to investigate/prosecute, the way this data analysis and subsequent policy works cannot help but be racist and classist.

Garbage in, garbage out. All computers work this way.

One wonders for example how effective this could be for preventing rapes or financial crimes.

Let's also include fraternity membership.
posted by rhizome at 1:30 AM on February 26 [3 favorites]


"Big Data, n.: the belief that any sufficiently large pile of shit contains a pony with probability approaching 1."
-J. Grimmelmann
posted by dragonsi55 at 2:28 AM on February 26 [12 favorites]


Way back when, Oxford set up an expert system to look at graduate applications and make a best guess at who would excel if admitted.

What's your source for this story? It reads like an email forward.
posted by empath at 2:53 AM on February 26 [5 favorites]


The real question is - who is feeding all of this intel to the CPD if most of the Facebook accounts being monitored are set to private.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 3:38 AM on February 26


Way back when, Oxford set up an expert system to look at graduate applications and make a best guess at who would excel if admitted.

What's your source for this story? It reads like an email forward.

The British Medical Journal described a similar story to that recounted by Tell Me No Lies, although it occurred not at Oxford, but at an English medical school in the '80s.
posted by Svejk at 4:23 AM on February 26


In my city, anybody can tell you where the shootings occur, which neighborhoods are dangerous. Children get shot here. We don't even need the darn algorithm; everybody knows who is at risk.

I don't want to sound like I'm defending this program (which based on the article sounds deeply flawed). But it's not true that who is at risk of violence is that general, and it's especially true that who is at risk of committing violence is not nearly that generalized. Violence flows along social networks and ebbs and flows. Even in big cities, violence is incredibly granular and hinges on specific people having specific things happen. Someone getting out of prison, or a cycle beginning of retaliatory attacks, is where the violence is happening, and generalizing it to "those neighborhoods" prevents targeting the specific causes and cycles.

This FPP about the impact of violence on a Chicago high school shows a bit of this, how violence flows from sometimes predictable relationships and encounters, and how knowing those relationships can give points of intercession for interrupting the violence.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:25 AM on February 26 [3 favorites]


The real question is - who is feeding all of this intel to the CPD if most of the Facebook accounts being monitored are set to private.


Facebook, obviously.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:31 AM on February 26 [1 favorite]


Remember, this is a police force with known torturers on it who have faced no consequences for their actions which has resulted in the city of Chicago settling court cases for in the region of $100 Million which will likely grow to around at least $200 million this year if not far more (there are something like 70 more cases pending). The conduct of this police force was so egregious that a governor suspended capital punishment because they had no confidence in CPD convictions in capital cases (all this while simultaneously allowing Daley's nephew to punch someone to death and walk away uncharged until 10 years later when a newspaper pushed the story and there was a new mayor).

Perhaps the officers of the CPD should give themselves harsh warnings in the mirror every day? "We're watching you buddy!" "No, we are watching you!"
posted by srboisvert at 4:33 AM on February 26 [4 favorites]


One small example of why this project cannot help but be racist: 13-old black kid arrested after throwing a snowball at a cop car. Wouldn't happen to a white kid, but this particular kid now has a police record and hence will appear on the danger list in future, regardless of what happens next.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:41 AM on February 26 [1 favorite]


Dear Isaac Asimov,

In the 21st century, the computers are racists too.

There's one you never saw coming!
posted by Renoroc at 5:06 AM on February 26


Yeah, see, this is an utter failure to deploy the technology correctly. It's totalitarian jackboot bullshit.

If an innocent citizen shows up on the "heat list" the, correct course of action is engagement. You send over the police commander, and she shows up with a business card and a free calendar or coffee mug that looks cool, and she introduces herself as the community liason. She then asks if he has any ideas about how she can help make the neighborhood safer, if he has any comments or complaints about the police in his neighborhood, and how his mom is doing. She then calls once or twice a month to see how's life, and offers to be a reference if he applies for a job somewhere, or helps him find training and education resources.

1) It lets him know the police are involved in his life, and in a positive way. He's not going to commit crimes because he's afraid of the cops, but because he likes them, identifies with them and wants to stay on the side of the good guys.

2) It brings someone who may be struggling or lost within reach of resources that will keep them clear of crime.

Boom. Problem solved.

This "we're watching you, future-perp" nonsense is counterproductive and creepy as all fuck.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:46 AM on February 26 [11 favorites]


ob1quixote: but this seems tantamount to a police officer coming to his house and saying, "Time to move, McDaniels.""

Or maybe, "This is a sundown town McDaniels."

What is it with Chicago and police?
posted by Sphinx at 6:41 AM on February 26 [2 favorites]


"If you end up on that list, there’s a reason you’re there."

Where have I heard this reasoning before? Oh right!

"Marty: If I show up at your door, chances are you did something to bring me there."

I guess Chicago PD now takes philosophy lessons from fictional hit men.
posted by yeolcoatl at 6:44 AM on February 26


You send over the police commander, and she shows up with a business card and a free calendar or coffee mug that looks cool, and she introduces herself as the community liason

That would be great, but that's just not going to happen. What you can look forward to is more nonsense like this based on shitty (or made up) data using unsound methodologies. I mean, watch this profile on Durham's work with IBM and see if you can spot the issues with this "Big Data™" nonsense.

However, this early '00s idea never gained traction (at least not yet) so there may still be hope.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 7:10 AM on February 26


"If you end up on that list, there’s a reason you’re there."

Suspicious physiognomy?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:45 AM on February 26 [3 favorites]


Explain to me why, if the purpose is to prevent crime, the first contact isn't a peer intervention member or social worker with access to funded programs for job training/living-wage permanent jobs, health/mental health services, sex ed/pre-natal care/childcare, housing options.... ?

Because this looks to me like personalized projection of state power onto a pre-terrorized population.
posted by Dreidl at 8:10 AM on February 26 [3 favorites]


I can't help thinking that the private firms that are running more and more of our prisons are not happy with the throughput and want to move the pipeline up a bit further.
posted by Kokopuff at 8:12 AM on February 26 [1 favorite]


I live in Chicago and the pains that my city takes to segregate, disadvantage, and criminalize its citizens of color is incredibly distressing to me. Here are some organizations that can help you learn more and take action. This is, by far, not the only way that the CPD targets black youth.

Project NIA Launched in 2009, Project NIA is an advocacy, organizing, popular education, research, and capacity-building center with the long-term goal of ending youth incarceration. We believe that several simultaneous approaches are necessary in order to develop and sustain community-based alternatives to the system of policing and incarceration. Our mission is to dramatically reduce the reliance on arrest, detention, and incarceration for addressing youth crime and to instead promote the use of restorative and transformative practices, a concept that relies on community-based alternatives.

Project NIA's Tumblr More frequent and timely updates than the Project NIA site.

@PrisonCulture The Twitter account of the founder/director of Project NIA

Chicago Freedom School Trains students to lead campaigns to change school and community policies around issues such as zero tolerance policies, homophobia in schools, education reform, public school course requirements, school hiring practices and policies, the school-to-prison pipeline, community violence & healing, sexual/reproductive health issues, mental/physical concerns, and food justice.  

Juvenile Justice Zine Project A project by The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, Project NIA, and the Chicago Freedom School, the five zines (which can be viewed online or printed and used as educational materials) are:
Graphic History of Juvenile Justice in Illinois (PDF)
Girls in the System (PDF)
Youth Stories (PDF)
School-to-Prison Pipeline (PDF)
The Prison Industrial Complex is... (PDF)

Dang. I might wait a few weeks and make a FPP, unless that's frowned upon.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:39 AM on February 26 [7 favorites]


Juliet Banana, I for one would be interested in that FPP.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:38 AM on February 26 [1 favorite]


So having read the actual article, rather than PKD-like speculation and grumbling about different incidents, it seems what happened was:
-McDaniels had a history of minorish arrests (the drug charges weren't much, but overall it depends on how minor you consider domestic battery)
-McDaniels was known to be friends with some much bigger criminal fish, including good friends with someone who was running a big drug gang
-Said good friend gets killed
-Police show up at McDaniels' door to say "I hope you aren't planning on getting a revenge kill in, or take over the operation." McDaniels suffers no other consequences

And that's the futurecrime operation we're supposed to regard as a racist specter of the old sundown towns? I think some people are a little confused about what sundown towns were.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:54 AM on February 26 [2 favorites]


What's your source for this story? It reads like an email forward.

That's just poor writing on my part.

The story was apparently current in neural networking/expert system circles in the early nineties. I heard it from a grad student in that area.

The British Medical Journal described a similar story to that recounted by Tell Me No Lies, although it occurred not at Oxford, but at an English medical school in the '80s.

It would not surprise me even a little bit to find out that was the origin of the story I told above. Hell, it wouldn't surprise me much if that *was* the story I was told. It's been twenty years after all.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:31 AM on February 26


en forme de poire, I decided against rewriting my comment as a FPP and posted it over on my feminist bike gang's blog. I added more resources, so if you're interested, here it is: Transformative Justice: Reforming Policing & Incarceration in Chicago.
posted by Juliet Banana at 12:10 PM on February 26 [3 favorites]


Like Slap*Happy said, it seems like sending someone over to offer help and/or resources would be way more constructive.

I do have a question for people who live in cities with lots of gangs though. I frequently read things saying "so-and-so neighborhood is known gang x territory" or "gang y is doing this and that in this town". How is it that law enforcement knows who all the gangs are and what they are up to, but the gangs seem to be able to act with impunity? Are there anti-gang laws that have been struck down? I honestly don't understand. Can anyone recommend any reading about this?
posted by freecellwizard at 1:56 PM on February 26


The Making of the "Other" Chicago
Mapping (and Potentially Preventing) Crime With Math
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:27 PM on February 26


Re-reading this, it actually looks like Papachristos's model is not necessarily the one being used and that he was not involved in making it, so I'm once again uncertain what variables are being used in the classifier beyond co-arrest. Even if the heat list itself can't be FOIA'd, probably the specification of the algorithm or the code itself could be.

Beyond that... it doesn't seem like a neutral act for the police commander to show up without warning at someone's house. For one thing, in the Tribune article McDaniel confirms that conspicuous police attention has led to suspicion that he is himself a police informant, which could actually make him the target of violence. That's tough.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:56 PM on February 26


See, this sort of project is of course going to fall to racist biases because all it's intended to do is give a pseudo-scientific gloss to institutional bias.

Chicago PD's Big Data: using pseudoscience to justify racial profiling
posted by homunculus at 9:31 PM on February 26


Juliet Banana: Thanks for the link to your post. There's a lot of good information there. I'll be digesting it over the next few hours.
posted by pjern at 9:16 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]


It's not just the CPD who want to emulate Minority Report: GCHQ spied on millions of Yahoo video chats, harvested sexual images of chatters, compared itself to "Tom Cruise in Minority Report"
posted by homunculus at 1:42 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


As if those sick fucks didn't realize ahead of time that webcam traffic was probably going to contain cybersex. The term "prurient prudery" was invented for this shit.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:24 PM on February 27


Anyone else thinks Snowden should have gone through the proper channels at this point? When those controlling access to the proper channels were this deep into this kind of evil?

This is, by far, the worst of the revelations. It's sick and sickening. They were harvesting blackmail material, pure and simple, against everyone, on the theory they could use it against whoever might oppose them for whatever reason, one day in the future. That they were getting prurient voyeuristic thrills from watching their own citizens was just the icing on the cake.

Enough. More than enough. I've hit my limit... I know there is an overwhelming majority who won't care. Yet.

Upon the camel's back, these straws do keep piling up...

I'm convinced there's worse yet to come.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:32 PM on February 27 [3 favorites]


Anyone else thinks Snowden should have gone through the proper channels at this point?

Snowden: I raised NSA concerns internally over 10 times before going rogue
posted by homunculus at 6:29 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


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