Policing Predictive Policing

80 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2016 Last revised: 8 Nov 2017

See all articles by Andrew Guthrie Ferguson

Andrew Guthrie Ferguson

American University Washington College of Law

Date Written: April 15, 2016


Predictive policing is sweeping the nation, promising the holy grail of policing – preventing crime before it happens. Police have embraced predictive analytics and data-driven metrics to improve law enforcement tactics, practice, and strategy. Predictive “hot spots” become targets for intensive police surveillance. Targeted “hot people” become suspects. In big cities and small towns, data-based predictions drive police patrol schedules. Risk assessment algorithms target suspicious individuals. Increased data collection fuels a growing feedback loop requiring more robust data crunching systems.

All of these predictive innovations share one thing in common: a belief that crime can be understood by identifying and analyzing crime patterns and risk factors. The insight that risk can be isolated, analyzed, and forecast to deter criminal behavior has led to the creation of a new industry of predictive policing companies. Small start-ups and huge technology corporations are contracting with cities to provide predictive services. New products designed to study crime, social media patterns, and other clues are in development. Federal grants are financing pilot projects. Cities are investing millions in unproven predictive software. And, at this particular moment in American history with a heightened awareness of racial disparity in the criminal justice system, predictive policing has been promoted as a data-driven, race-neutral, objective solution to the failed policing policies of the past.

Predictive policing raises profound questions about the nature of predictive analytics and the attached article is the first sustained practical and theoretical critique of predictive policing. Questions of data collection, methodology, transparency, accountability, security, vision, and practical implementation emerge from this move toward actuarial justice. Building off a wealth of theoretical insights from scholars who have addressed the rise of risk assessment throughout the criminal justice system, this article provides an analytical framework to police not just predictive policing, but all future predictive technologies.

Suggested Citation

Ferguson, Andrew Guthrie, Policing Predictive Policing (April 15, 2016). Washington University Law Review, Vol. 94, No. 5, 2017, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2765525

Andrew Guthrie Ferguson (Contact Author)

American University Washington College of Law ( email )

4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

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