New police technologies assign individual "threat scores"


A new generation of technology has given local law enforcement officers in some parts of the US unprecedented power to peer into the lives of citizens. In Fresno, California, the police department's $600,000 Real Time Crime Center is providing a model for other such centres that have opened in New York, Houston, and Seattle over the decade between 2006 and 2016. The group of technologies used in these centres includes ShotSpotter, which uses microphones around the city to triangulate the location of gun shots; a private database of more than 2 billion nationwise licence plates and locations; Media Sonar software, which monitors individuals on social media and also scans for threats to schools and gang-related hashtags; and feeds from 200 police cameras across the city, plus potentially 800 more feeds from city schools and traffic cameras; and soon perhaps 400 more from officers' body cams and local business surveillance systems. 

Sitting atop these sources of information is software called Beware. When a call comes in, Beware runs the address and uses various types of publicly available data to generate a colour-coded threat score for each resident. How the software works is unknown, as its publisher, Intrado, considers that information a trade secret. 

The software is controversial among civil libertarians, who view it as a troubling intrusion on privacy. Other concerns include the lack of public oversight and the potential for abuse and error. After a contentious Fresno City Council hearing on Beward, the city's police department began working with Intrado to turn off the colour-coded rating system and possibly the social media monitoring.

Writer: Justin Jouvenal
Publication: Washington Post

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