Recently, the top brass at the LAPD decided to do away with a predictive policing program that residents say is rife with racial bias. The program used specific crime data to identify what law enforcement referred to as Los Angeles Strategic Extraction and Restoration (LASER) zones. The program was one of several data-driven predictive policing programs that the LAPD used to identify places where violent crimes were most likely to occur, as well as persons most likely to commit these crimes. Once a LASER zone was identified, a surge of LAPD officers would be sent to the area in an effort to deter the crimes that their data indicates would be happening there, as well as to keep tabs on individuals.
At a police commission meeting on Tuesday, April 9, LAPD Chief Michel Moore stated that the program had led to the lowest crime rates in years. Residents and skeptics of the program, however, have questioned whether or not data-driven strategies that rely on computer algorithms and other computer data to identify areas where violent crime is most likely to happen is effective at all. A recent audit found that the program itself lacked oversight, and that the data used by officers to label individuals as likely to commit violent crimes was inconsistent.
Predictive policing has been a source of contention between the police and the public since its inception. The public is highly suspicious of data-driven policing, especially residents of neighborhoods targeted by programs like LASER. Law enforcement believes that the practice has given them useful information that allows supervisors to allocate resources more efficiently. Detractors of predictive policing have been saying for a long time that the practice is focused on poor neighborhoods and areas populated primarily by people of color. According to those in the know, the data used by the predictive policing algorithm doesn’t include race or gender.
Interestingly, while LASER was the most recent predictive policing program to be shut down, it wasn’t the only one. A much more controversial segment of the program, which involved the identification and monitoring of so-called chronic offenders who are most likely to commit violent crimes, was scrapped last summer. The segment of the program involved identifying the chronic offenders, adding them to a list, and then distributing that list to officers in the area. Though the lists and database were discontinued in August, the public was only informed last month.
Ultimately, the end of the LASER program does not spell the end of predictive policing entirely – it was just one of several programs already in action. Increased oversight as well as more consistency in how the data is used may very well help quell the public outcry and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of predictive policing.