Feeding the Machine: Policing, Crime Data, & Algorithms

17 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2017

See all articles by Elizabeth E. Joh

Elizabeth E. Joh

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Date Written: August 16, 2017


Discussions of predictive algorithms used by the police tend to assume the police are merely end users of big data. Accordingly, police departments are consumers and clients of big data -- not much different than users of Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, or Facebook. Yet this assumption about big data policing contains a flaw. Police are not simply end users of big data. They generate the information that big data programs rely upon. This essay explains why predictive policing programs can’t be fully understood without an acknowledgment of the role police have in creating its inputs. Their choices, priorities, and even omissions become the inputs algorithms use to forecast crime. The filtered nature of crime data matters because these programs promise cutting edge results, but may deliver analyses with hidden limitations.

Keywords: police, policing, Fourth Amendment, big data, predictive policing, algorithm, crime data, criminal justice

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Joh, Elizabeth E., Feeding the Machine: Policing, Crime Data, & Algorithms (August 16, 2017). __ William & Mary Bill of Rights J. __ (2017 Forthcoming)., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3020259

Elizabeth E. Joh (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

400 Mrak Hall Drive
Davis, CA 95616-5201
United States

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