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Dozens of Cities Have Secretly Experimented With Predictive Policing Software

07/02/2019

The use of PredPol—a predictive policing software that once advocated for a controversial, unproven “broken windows” approach to law enforcement—is far more widespread than previously reported, according to documents obtained by Motherboard using public records requests.

PredPol claims to use an algorithm to predict crime in specific 500-foot by 500-foot sections of a city, so that police can patrol or surveil specific areas more heavily.

The documents obtained by Motherboard—which include PredPol contract documents, instructional manuals and slide presentations for using the software, and PredPol contract negotiation emails with government officials—were obtained from the police departments of South Jordan, UT; Mountain View, CA; Atlanta, GA; Haverhill, GA; Palo Alto, CA; Modesto, CA; Merced, CA; Livermore, CA; Tacoma, WA; and the University of California, Berkeley using public records requests. These cities and municipalities are home to over 1 million people, according to the most recent census data available. In October, BoingBoing’s Cory Doctorow published a story speculating that these citieshad contracts with PredPol, based on an anonymous researcher’s study of the company’s URL structures and login portals. These documents confirm these cities have or had relationships with the company.

One of the documents the company gave to police that was obtained by Motherboard notes that predictive policing “benefits potential offenders” by preventing them from committing crimes: “That’s one less chance for them to run afoul of the legal system, and that does benefit them,” it says. Other documents shared with law enforcement list some of PredPol’s former customers, including an additional 15 American and British cities; one of the documents notes the company has “many more” customers that have not been listed. The company also retains sensitive crime data indefinitely on servers owned by a third party.


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