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by Peter Moskos

June 27, 2016

Police just "perpetuating an already vicious cycle"

Sometimes the police-are-bad set can be so casual in their negative assumptions about police you just might miss it. But it's worth calling out, because accepting these lies is damaging, potentially lethal if you're in a high-crime neighborhood. This is buried in Kate Crawford's article in the New York Times about artificial intelligence:
Police departments across the United States are also deploying data-driven risk-assessment tools in “predictive policing” crime prevention efforts. In many cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami, software analyses of large sets of historical crime data are used to forecast where crime hot spots are most likely to emerge; the police are then directed to those areas.
That's good, right?

At the very least, this software risks perpetuating an already vicious cycle, in which the police increase their presence in the same places they are already policing (or overpolicing), thus ensuring that more arrests come from those areas. In the United States, this could result in more surveillance in traditionally poorer, nonwhite neighborhoods, while wealthy, whiter neighborhoods are scrutinized even less.
And to think, that is "the very least" harm predictive and data-driven policing policing could do. What is the worst-case scenario?

See, the problem according to this piece -- just thrown in there, asserted like God's truth -- is that people in high-crime neighborhoods suffer from police presence. Nothing about preventing crime or the criminals police are paid to confront. Police just "scrutinize" and arrest. To break this "vicious cycle", should we have fewer police in high-crime neighborhoods? I can't help but notice that cities that have inadvertently put this strategy to test -- less policing, less scrutiny in high-crime areas, fewer arrests -- cities like Baltimore and Chicago? They're not doing so well with the crime fighting.

[hat tip to my brother]


Andy D said...

Prof, you and I differ (dramatically I would guess) in political ideology. So, an honest question: assuming you likely spend a lot of time in a politically like-minded set, how do you not lose your mind in your circle of friends and acquaintances?

Peter Moskos said...

Do you mean you're conservative and I'm liberal, and presumably I hang around lots of liberals (I do)? How do I not go crazy with the anti-cop sentiment?

Andy D said...

That was the basic gist, though I'm of a more libertarian bent so I go crazy around...most every gathering of people :)

Peter Moskos said...

Good question. I don't know. Maybe because I find it boring to be with people who share all my beliefs? I also have a lot of empathy for other people's beliefs, no matter my opinion.

Also, keep in mind I have cop friends with whom I have next-to-nothing in common with, politically. In Baltimore I don't think a single friend of mine was a Democrat. I guess I try not to define a person by their political beliefs.

But I'm always curious about how people construct come about their beliefs. Is there a factual misunderstanding? Is it pure ideology? (That bother me more.) It helps that I like a good discussion/argument.

Andy D said...

I enjoy a *good* discussion/argument too. It is one of the reasons I enjoy your blog and read it every day. I find, however, that unless I have something else very important in common with people, many are not very interested in discussing. They seek an echo chamber that reinforces their pre-existing ideology. Maybe I'm too close to DC.

LemmusLemmus said...

Good point - but then, the *whole article* is like that.

aNanyMouse said...


aNanyMouse said...

“…unless I have something else very important in common with people, many are not very interested in discussing. They seek an echo chamber….”

Fortunately, some people are better than that, and these people tend to have broader ranges of experience, such that they are qualified to give sage advice on sticky human problems.

You’re more likely to find such people at places where discussions revolve around history or philosophy, rather than around current events (the latter tending to attract ideologues, esp. near DC).

David Madden said...

Peter, speaking of beliefs, did your time as a cop change/shape your views on policing? Or have you always kind of leaned that way?

Peter Moskos said...

Good question, and I'm not really certain.

As I wrote in Cop in the Hood, I was raised neutral to mildly pro-police. But police just weren't part of my life. I did have Officer Friendly in my school, but I didn't know any cops. (Or really any blue collar Republicans, for that matter.)

I would say I learned about police *officers* as a cop. But my view on policing itself didn't change that much. But I learned what you can from books (and despite what they say, you can learn a bit from books), and I also learned from about a year of ride-alongs with police in Amsterdam. That was before Baltimore.

Certainly my empathy for cops increased because of my work. But also, to some extent -- probably unlike most cops -- my empathy for the shit criminals of the area also increased. I mean, it must suck to grow up surrounded by violence and sometimes without even parents who love you.

What I did was how the war on the drugs is doomed from a ground-zero perspective. And how it messes with the 4th Amendment. But I already thought the drug war was bullshit before then.