Milwaukee Police Department uses technology to map "high crime" areas, causing these areas to be overpoliced.

For well over a century, police have attempted to find ways to predict where, when, and by whom crime is going to be committed. In the 21st century, this ambition often takes the form of predictive algorithms that use historical data in an attempt to anticipate future events. Police often plug in events as disparate as traffic information, crime statistics and incident reports, or even the grades of school children. The algorithmic outputs often guide police procedure, patrols, and even who to put under increased surveillance. 

But of course, police cannot actually predict crime, with or without a computer. Nobody can see the future. What police can do, however, is make assumptions about who and where crime is most likely to occur and put those places and people under intense scrutiny. Such heightened surveillance can lead to increased traffic and sidewalk stops, documentation of a person’s activities over time, and even use of force.

Predictive policing is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. If police focus their efforts in one neighborhood and arrest dozens of people there during the span of a week, the data may reflect that area as a hotbed of criminal activity, leading the algorithm to deploy more officers there the following week. The system also considers only reported crime, so neighborhoods where the police are called more often might see predictive policing technology concentrate resources there. This system can aggravate existing patterns of policing–especially in neighborhoods with concentrations of people of color, unhoused individuals, and immigrants—by using the cloak of scientific legitimacy and the supposed unbiased nature of data. 

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This technology is only one reason why we need a Community Control Over Police Surveillance (CCOPS) ordinance. CCOPS would require oversight and community input in invasive surveillance technologies, allowing the Wisconsinites being surveilled to make informed decisions about their privacy.

Milwaukee deserves to know how the police is surveilling us. Milwaukee needs CCOPS.