Category Archives: Law Enforcement

Why big-data analysis of police activity is inherently biased

Source: William Isaac, Andi Dixon, The Conversation, May 9, 2017

….At its core, any predictive model or algorithm is a combination of data and a statistical process that seeks to identify patterns in the numbers. This can include looking at police data in hopes of learning about crime trends or recidivism. But a useful outcome depends not only on good mathematical analysis: It also needs good data. That’s where predictive policing often falls short.

Machine-learning algorithms learn to make predictions by analyzing patterns in an initial training data set and then look for similar patterns in new data as they come in. If they learn the wrong signals from the data, the subsequent analysis will be lacking…..

Related:
Policing
Source: Human Rights Data Analysis Group, 2017

The growing debate about policing in America arises from concern about horrific but extraordinary acts of police violence. These incidents and the clear racial disparities in criminal justice contact raise important questions about the ordinary practice of policing. Should police stop suspicious individuals and frisk them for weapons? Should departments use statistical techniques to predict crime and make decisions about where to deploy officers? Evaluating police practices requires measuring their benefits and their costs. Do police practices reduce crime? How do they affect communities? How do those effects vary within and among communities? However, community groups and municipal leaders outside law enforcement currently lack data and tools to measure the impact of policing strategies. Community stakeholders – including city governments, community groups, and non-governmental organizations – need rigorous tools to independently evaluate the costs and benefits of various policing strategies.

To assess the benefits and costs of policing, we need to know how police actions affect patterns of crime. Both components – police actions and crime – are hard to measure. Most crime is secret and police practices influence variation in recording of crimes. When departments hire more officers, or when they deploy more officers to certain neighborhoods, recorded crime may increase even if actual crime does not change. Additionally, police knowledge about crime is the result of reporting by civilians who trust the police. Many victims are reluctant to report crime to police because they think the police will be unable to help them, because they worry that police may suspect them of being criminals themselves, or because they fear retaliation from perpetrators or neighbors.

Our team specializes in collecting and analyzing data on events that are hard to measure. In the last year, the Human Rights Data Analysis Group has begun studying issues in U.S. police practice, focusing on three topics: homicides by police, predictive policing, cost-benefit analysis of policing. We have already created multiple new analyses of available data on crime and policing, assessing the accuracy of the number of killings by police and the effects of Predictive Policing. We propose to build on our work to create a scalable, sustainable, community-driven, technically rigorous assessment of the costs and benefits of various policing strategies….

The effects of occupational stress on cognitive performance in police officers

Source: Charles L. Gutshall, David P. Hampton Jr., Ismail M. Sebetan, Paul C. Stein & Thomas J. Broxtermann, Police Practice and Research: An International Journal, Vol. 18, 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The occupational stress of police officers, and its’ effect on working memory and other psychological and behavioral factors over a two-week work period have been investigated. Cognitive performance and stress levels were examined at pre and post work cycles by using a memory test and several self-reporting surveys, each designed for a specific purpose and to gauge a particular set of behaviors and personality traits. The police officers were assigned to patrol duties at the time of the investigation and placed into three groups based on years of service (1–20 years). The results of the investigation identified a deficit in working memory in Junior, Veteran, and Senior Officers, based on the Ray Osterreith Complex Figure Scores at Baseline (pre-stress) vs. Test Day (post-stress). The other survey tools measuring stress impact on personality and behavior, did not demonstrate any statistical differences in the responding groups of officers in their survey performances.

Why Terminate? Exploring the End of Interlocal Contracts for Police Service in California Cities

Source: Eric S. Zeemering, The American Review of Public Administration, OnlineFirst, Published April 3, 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
With the recent growth in interlocal contracts for municipal service delivery, insufficient attention has been given to city governments that choose to terminate interlocal contracts. The termination of interlocal contracts deserves scrutiny because theory points to multiple possible explanations for service change. This research examines the termination of interlocal contracts for police service delivery by California cities between 2001 and 2010. Public documents from the nine cities that terminated interlocal contracts are analyzed to assess rationale for termination. The stated reasons for termination include problems related to community responsiveness, the contract relationship, local control, service cost, service levels, and staffing. Grounded theory is advanced through analysis of the nine cities. The research refines our understanding of how cities weigh the costs and benefits of in-house production versus production through interlocal contract. While contract failure is evident in some cities, termination may also be explained as a process of vertical integration and service expansion. The research refines theories about local government service delivery and informs the practice of interlocal contract management.

Critical Perspectives on Police, Policing, and Mass Incarceration

Source: Richard Delgado, Jean Stefancic, University of Alabama – School of Law, Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2876702, November 28, 2016

From the abstract:
Shows that aggressive policing is only one of a number of measures that society uses to control minority groups with whom it is displeased for some reason, and that failing to see how the authorities deploy the different measures separately, serially, or in coordinated fashion is a serious mistake. Sketches a new form of policing that is respectful of minority residents and values, and provides a framework for reducing excessive incarceration and mitigating some of the cruelties associated with it.

Why Courts Fail to Protect Privacy: Race, Age, Bias, and Technology

Source: Bernard Chao, Catherine S. Durso, Ian P. Farrell, Christopher T. Robertson, University of Denver – Sturm College of Law, Legal Studies Research Paper No. 17-03, February 23, 2017

From the abstract:
The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable “searches and seizures,” but in the digital age of stingray devices and IP tracking, what constitutes a search or seizure? The Supreme Court has held that the threshold question is supposed to depend on and reflect the “reasonable expectations” of ordinary members of the public concerning their own privacy. For example, the police now exploit the “third party” doctrine to access data held by email and cell phone providers, without securing a warrant, on the Supreme Court’s intuition that the public has no expectation of privacy in that information. Is that assumption correct? If judges’ intuitions about privacy do not reflect actual public expectations, it may undermine the legitimacy of the criminal justice system and exacerbate social unrest.

Although prior research has shown that the police disproportionately target younger people and minority communities, judges tend to be male, white, educated, affluent, and older than the general population. Their intuitions may thus be systematically different. Even worse, cognitive science suggests that judges may have difficulty putting themselves into the shoes of the searched person or considering the reasonableness of the police tactics from an ex ante perspective, without knowledge about the fruits of the search.

With 1200 respondents, we conducted a large-scale survey experiment to test whether, and if so, why, contemporary Fourth Amendment jurisprudence diverges from the societal norms it purports to protect and reflect. We identify a range of privacy expectations for 18 different police practices. We use oversampling, reweighting, and randomization to investigate particular causes of this disparity between judicial and public expectations. We conclude by suggesting better ways forward, so that social science evidence can replace judicial speculation.

States Perform

Source: Council of State Governments, 2017

States Perform provides users with access to interactive, customizable and up-to-date comparative performance measurement data for 50 states in six key areas: fiscal and economic, public safety and justice, energy and environment, transportation, health and human services, and education. Compare performance across a few or all states, profile one state, view trends over time, and customize your results with graphs and maps.

Bypassing encryption: ‘Lawful hacking’ is the next frontier of law enforcement technology

Source: Ben Buchanan, The Conversation, March 16, 2017

The discussion about how law enforcement or government intelligence agencies might rapidly decode information someone else wants to keep secret is – or should be – shifting. One commonly proposed approach, introducing what is called a “backdoor” to the encryption algorithm itself, is now widely recognized as too risky to be worth pursuing any further.

The scholarly and research community, the technology industry and Congress appear to be in agreement that weakening the encryption that in part enables information security – even if done in the name of public safety or national security – is a bad idea. Backdoors could be catastrophic, jeopardizing the security of billions of devices and critical communications.

What comes next? Surely police and spy agencies will still want, or even need, information stored by criminals in encrypted forms. Without a backdoor, how might they get access to data that may help them solve – or even prevent – a crime?

The future of law enforcement and intelligence gathering efforts involving digital information is an emerging field that I and others who are exploring it sometimes call “lawful hacking.” Rather than employing a skeleton key that grants immediate access to encrypted information, government agents will have to find other technical ways – often involving malicious code – and other legal frameworks…..

Body-Worn Police Cameras: Separating Fact from Fiction – A Look at 5 Important Claims About the Technology

Source: Michael White and James Coldren, PM Magazine, March 2017

Since mid-2014, a number of police killings of residents has produced public outrage, civil disorder, and strong antipolice sentiment, especially among minority residents. In response to this crisis, in December 2014, President Obama formed the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and charged it with developing recommendations to enhance trust between police and minority communities, as well as to improve police accountability.

The task force final report, published in May 2015, highlighted body-worn cameras (BWCs) as a potential tool for achieving those objectives. Since 2015, the White House, Congress, and the U.S. Department of Justice have strongly supported the adoption of BWCs by police.

This is evidenced by the creation of a National Body-Worn Camera Toolkit by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and a federal funding program that has provided nearly $40 million to more than 175 law enforcement agencies for the purchase of BWCs; development of robust and comprehensive policies for BWC use; podcasts from researchers, subject matter experts, and practitioners; and a training and technical assistance mechanism that helps with BWC adoption and program management.

Racial/Ethnic Disparities in the Use of Lethal Force by US Police, 2010–2014

Source: James W. Buehler, American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 107 No. 2, February 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Objectives. To update previous examinations of racial/ethnic disparities in the use of lethal force by US police.

Methods. I examined online national vital statistics data for deaths assigned an underlying cause of “legal intervention” … for the 5-year period 2010 to 2014.

Results. Death certificates identified 2285 legal intervention deaths (1.5 per million population per year) from 2010 to 2014. Among males aged 10 years or older, who represented 96% of these deaths, the mortality rate among non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic individuals was 2.8 and 1.7 times higher, respectively, than that among White individuals.

Conclusions. Substantial racial/ethnic disparities in legal intervention deaths remain an ongoing problem in the United States.

What everyone should know about their state’s budget

Source: Urban Institute, 2017
[tool was funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation]

State and local governments educate schoolchildren, train the future workforce, care for the sick and elderly, build roads, patrol neighborhoods, extinguish fires, and maintain parks. In short, they’re pretty important. But few Americans understand where their state and local tax dollars go and to what effect. It’s not just the amount of money spent that matters, it’s why that money is spent the way it is.

Through this web tool, we aim to fill that knowledge gap. The tool allows users to get under the hood of their government and understand not only how much a state spends but also what drives that spending.

To do this, we apply a basic framework to all major areas of government spending. The framework says that state spending per capita is both a function of how many people receive a service and how much that service costs the state for each recipient. ….

…In this tool, you’ll see the spending per capita breakdown for all states and the District of Columbia across all major functional categories. It allows you to see how each state ranks, and you can sort by any factor you choose. (One frequent outlier is DC; though included in the rankings, it often functions more like a city than a state) We’ve included some annotations to guide you along the way. By exploring the tool, you’ll gain a sense of how much each state spends on any given area and why states spend what they do. ….