Policing Police Access to Criminal Justice Data
78 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2018 Last revised: 3 Aug 2018
Date Written: April 18, 2018
Today, it is often noted that we live in an information-based society. This is certainly true of police on street patrol, who more than ever before rely on, and enjoy ready access to, information when doing their work. Information in aggregated form, for instance, is used to create algorithms for “hot spot” policing that targets specific areas. Information concerning individuals, however, must somehow be tied to them if it is to be useful. An arrest warrant in a database, for example, lies inert until an officer associates it with an individual; so too does information regarding suspected gang affiliation and the mass of other information contained in databases. With databases expanding exponentially by the day, and police engaging in what has come to be known as database policing, in search of “hits,” personal identity has assumed unprecedented importance. This article addresses these developments. Unlike prior scholarship, which has focused mainly on the collection and use of information regarding individuals, the article examines the intermediate step of database policing: the means by which police access database information. For police, the benefits of such access are as broad as the expanse of databases on which they have come to rely, which is very broad indeed. Databases today include not only arrest warrants, most often for minor offenses, which police can use for evidentiary “fishing expeditions” when conducting searches incident to arrest. They also include records of prior stops, arrests, and convictions, which often reflect racially biased policing practices that are reified when relied upon by police. Databases even contain personally sensitive information that, while not incriminating, can be embarrassing for individuals who are detained. By conceiving of personal identity itself as evidentiary fruit worthy of constitutional regulation the article fills a major gap in policing scholarship, addressing a matter that will only grow in importance as police increasingly rely on databases that are rapidly proliferating in number and kind.
Keywords: Fourth Amendment, policing, identity, Strieff
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