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Imagine a world in which everything about your life — your friends, your family, which school you went to, your social media activity — are reduced to a simple number used by police and the government to determine whether something bad will happen to you.
It sounds crazy, and almost paranoid, but algorithm-based initiatives have aided police from Chicago to London to help guide public safety interventions. In the case of Robert McDaniel, he was assigned a score that put him on Chicago’s “Heat List,” and he was told that he was likely to be involved in a shooting. But police didn’t know whether he’d be the shooter or the victim.
That resulted in the city offering him a range of services, but it also put him on the police’s radar — and that began a chain of events that fulfilled a grim prophecy.
The promise of advanced math utilizing increasingly sophisticated data collection grows stronger by the year… but so do its potential perils. Can quantifying a person’s behavior actually tell us anything useful about them? And if it can, is it ethical?
The rise and fall of Chicago’s Heat List demonstrates not just how predictive policing works, but how it impacts individuals. And while the calculations themselves are a black box, there’s one thing we do know: once you’re on the list, you can’t get off.
MUST WATCH: Fantastic German documentary “Pre-Crime” (2017) by Matthias Heeder and Monika Hielscher. Pre-Crime delves into the details and implications of data-based policing and where the future is headed worldwide, available on Amazon and more: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6998222/
MUST READ: “Heat Listed,” by Matt Shroud, which describes Robert McDanels’ experience and the efforts of Chicago police to use data to reduce gun violence: https://www.theverge.com/c/22444020/chicago-pd-predictive-policing-heat-list
*** ADDITIONAL READING ***
“The Small Social Networks at the Heart of Chicago’s Violence,” by Whet Moser: https://www.chicagomag.com/city-life/December-2013/The-Small-Social-Networks-at-the-Heart-of-Chicago-Violence/
“For years Chicago police rated the risk of tens of thousands being caught up in violence. That controversial effort has quietly been ended.” by Jeremy Gorner: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/criminal-justice/ct-chicago-police-strategic-subject-list-ended-20200125-spn4kjmrxrh4tmktdjckhtox4i-story.html
“Pre-Crime” (2017), documentary by Matthias Heeder and Monika Hielscher: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6998222/
“The grim reality of life under Gangs Matrix, London’s controversial predictive policing tool,” by Peter Yeung: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/gangs-matrix-violence-london-predictive-policing
“The Police Are Using Computer Algorithms to Tell If You’re a Threat,” by Andrew Guthrie Ferguson: https://time.com/4966125/police-departments-algorithms-chicago/
“Violence Is Contagious”: A Conversation with Andrew Papachristos,” by Greg Berman: https://www.hfg.org/conversations/violence-is-contagious-a-conversation-with-andrew-papachristos/
“Social Networks and the Risk of Gunshot Injury,” Papachristos, Andrew V et al. Journal of urban health : bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine vol. 89,6 (2012): 992-1003.
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Hosted and Produced by Kevin Lieber
Research and Writing by Matthew Tabor
Editing by John Swan
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