July 13, 2018 By Wallin & Klarich

What is the job of a police officer? Is it to arrest those who commit crimes or is it to protect people from potential criminals? Is it both?

A recent report by The Appeal, which cites a public records request lawsuit claiming that the Los Angeles Police Department is using data and analysts to monitor select neighborhoods, has sparked a controversy over how far the police should go in “protecting” the community

How is the LAPD identifying probable offenders?

According to the report, LAPD analysts are using software called Palantir to help identify “probable offenders.” This file-organizing and data-mining software assess individuals a predictive risk score based on information from police records like field interview cards and arrest reports.

The result is a “Chronic Offender Bulletin,” which includes personal information, gang associates and past arrests about an individual. According to the report, this policing technique existed before the LAPD started using Palantir, but the software produces the report within minutes rather than the hour or so it would take to compile manually.

Each LAPD analyst is told to identify the 12 highest-scoring individuals based on these reports, along with up to 10 others as backups, according to The Appeal. These “probable offenders” are then placed under surveillance by the LAPD. Specialized LAPD units often seek out cause to arrest these individuals, such as outstanding warrants or illegal gun possession.

Does LAPD surveillance violate your rights?

The organization making the public records request lawsuit, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, believes that such predictive risk programs only feed a “racist feedback loop” that targets individuals based on data generated by racially biased policing. Due to its reliance on prior police interactions and criminal history, individuals with high scores are more likely to come from African American and Latino neighborhoods where police are more likely to stop individuals.

Critics of the program also say that the LAPD’s increased focus on surveillance could lead to arrests being made solely for the purpose of obtaining data.

However, no group seems to be arguing that the use of this software is unconstitutional or unlawful. Identifying “probable offenders” does not provide law enforcement with probable cause to arrest someone, but instead provides a justification to monitor individuals who may commit crimes (and will likely be caught doing so thanks to surveillance).

Thus, the question isn’t whether the LAPD’s use of the software is constitutional, but rather if it is ethical. What do you think about this issue? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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