The New York City Police Department is preparing to implement a controversial software program designed to predict when and where crime will occur.
The software, known as “HunchLab,” analyzes everything from local crime statistics to weather patterns in order to provide officers with a detailed map of likely crime hotspots.
According to the NYPD, the software will be used in three precincts for more than two years under a pilot program before police decide whether to roll out the technology department-wide.
“Predictive policing will allow the NYPD to make better data-driven decisions about deployments,” the NYPD said. “The Department has been experimenting with custom-built algorithms that have been shown to be better predictors of crime incidents than traditional hotspot analysis.”
Part of a multi-million dollar technology initiative, the pilot program has already caused concern among civil liberties groups. According to HunchLab’s producer, Azavea CEO Robert Cheetham, fear over the program is unfounded.
“We’re not predicting where crime is going to happen any more than a weather forecaster literally predicts where rain is going to fall,” Cheetham told the Capital. “If you’re thinking Minority Report, that’s not happening.”
Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia, worries that such technology could eventually be used to target specific individuals.
“To stop you and frisk you and search you, a police officer needs reasonable suspicion, so my question is how will this affect reasonable suspicion?” Ferguson said. “How do you cross-examine a computer?”
Although several departments have discontinued the use of predictive-policing software due to questionable success rates, many others are acquiring the technology as police rely more and more on data-collection.
Just last April the Miami Police Department obtained HunchLab as well with help from a $600,000 Bureau of Justice Assistance grant.
Similar software programs such as “PredPol” have also been in use by multiple departments across the country.
“We all thought it was somewhat hocus pocus and Minority Report,” Lt. LeAnne Browning of the Los Angeles Police Department said. “We could see if PredPol was predicting fairly well. It’s kind of scary, because they were.”