Opinion: Data-driven policing holds promise, as long as we know who is driving the data | Notice

If you grew up watching “The Jetsons” as part of your Saturday morning cartoon ritual, you are probably now seeing how prescient the show has turned out to be.

The Jetson family – George and Jane (his wife) along with their daughter Judy and boy Elroy – lived in a futuristic suburb where everyone’s house looked like a miniature version of the Seattle Space Needle.

The Jetson house was what we might now call a ‘smart’ home – they had large interactive screens on almost every wall, voice-activated devices that did all the mundane housework for them and even a robotic housekeeper, Rosie.

Everyone got around in flying coupes that broke all the laws of gravity. Other than that, crime wasn’t much of a problem, and maybe all of this tech should get some of the credit.

That seems to be what local law enforcement officials are banking on anyway.

Increasingly, they are relying on a ‘data-driven’ approach, which includes the use of sophisticated technology to keep tabs on known offenders and to quickly share data between local agencies to help. track criminals and detect crime patterns.

They hope it will help them stop violent crime, especially gang related activity, before it happens.

This month, the Yakima Police Department got the green light from city council to purchase 15 automatic license plate recognition cameras and hire two criminal analysts. The cameras will cost $ 110,000, plus an annual subscription of $ 5,000. New criminal analysts will cost $ 269,958.

Police will place 10 of the cameras at the main entry points to Yakima. The other five will be positioned in high crime areas that analysts will identify with the data they collect.

It seems like a smart approach to us, although admittedly the idea of ​​more cameras monitoring our every move is a bit unsettling. Scary, even.

Board member Brad Hill did not appear concerned when YPD presented his request to the board on July 6.

“In 2021 in the United States of America, you’re a little ridiculous if you think you have any real privacy left,” Hill said.

He’s probably right, but that doesn’t give us much reassurance – nor any assurance that programs like this will be transparent and accountable to the public.

Apparently, YPD chief Matt Murray and Yakima County Sheriff Robert Udell are working with the FBI to see how data analysis could help local police. They are also teaming up to create a local analyst task force and a gang task force.

Additionally, and laudably, YPD’s strategy is to connect potential offenders with nonprofits to help break the cycles of crime.

We are encouraged by the innovative thinking that is taking place among crime fighters. But with a myriad of ways to abuse tech systems like these, we urge governing bodies such as city councils and county commissions to put strong safeguards in place to protect public privacy and civil liberties. .

It’s one thing to have devices like Jetsons fix your breakfast, wash your clothes, or brush your teeth. It’s another if you’re surrounded by government technology controlled by someone else – someone whose motives you may not know.


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