The Los Angeles Police Department has just received some bad news from its oversight. It’s probably good news for the policed — many of whom are being disproportionately targeted thanks to biased input data — but the LAPD can’t be pleased that its reliance on expensive, mostly-automated tools hasn’t produced worthwhile results.
The department relies on a handful of tech tools to aid in its policing, but it doesn’t appear to be helping. It has CompStat — a holdover from the early 2000’s when Bill Bratton still ran the department. To that framework, it has added LASER — a nifty acronym that stands for “Los Angeles’ Strategic Extraction and Restoration.” The program with the reverse engineered nickname actually relies on input from human analysts to determine where officers should be deployed. But this reliance on data-driven policing isn’t making the city any safer, despite LASER’s focus on violent crime.
Here’s what the LAPD’s human analysts put together for the department’s patrol officers.
In perhaps the most contentious strategy, each of the department’s 21 geographic areas used data to compile lists or “bulletins” of people calculated to be among the top 12 “chronic offenders.”
The program assigns people points based on prior criminal histories, such as arrest records, gang affiliation, probation and parole status and recent police contacts.
This strategy received some public blow-back, resulting in the department abandoning it last August. Nothing of value was lost.
[Inspector General Mark] Smith examined data collected prior to the suspension.
He found 44 percent of chronic offenders had either zero or one arrest for violent crimes. About half had no arrest for gun-related crimes.
So much for curbing violent crime. All it did was create a loop where cops targeted nonviolent offenders, resulting in another arrest/detention that added more points to the person’s LASER record, resulting in even more targeting and, inevitably, more interactions with police officers. It’s a feedback loop no one can escape.
To make things worse, officers had the power to place people into this damaging loop by “nominating” them for targeting with LASER. The point-based system that was supposed to limit this targeting to just the worst of worst street criminals could be bypassed. Nominated citizens would find themselves rising up the ranks on the LASER lists, racking up points simply by officers performing stops based on faulty inputs.
And while the tech is supposedly improving, the quality of policing isn’t. CompStat has had nearly a 20-year run in LA, but its results are negligible. Predictive policing — which has its own bias issues — isn’t doing any better.
Like the other program, Smith found discrepancies with the data collection and could not draw conclusions to “meaningfully evaluate” the program’s overall effectiveness to reduce crime, the report said.
Unfortunately, the report recommends the LAPD stay the course. The LAPD is supposed to spend more time “reviewing” the data that isn’t producing results and tailor its outputs with an eye on Constitutional rights. As it stands now, the LAPD is allowing databases to conjure up reasonable suspicion for stops. That can’t keep happening. But the way forward can’t be more of the same, only at a slightly slower pace.
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