The Consequences of Automating and Deskilling the Police

34 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2019

See all articles by Elizabeth E. Joh

Elizabeth E. Joh

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Date Written: September 9, 2019


Almost no one thinks of automation and the consequences it will bring to policing. This is a mistake. Automation — the combination of artificial intelligence and robotics — is spreading everywhere. Whatever its benefits, we will also face problems as automation replaces human labor. One consequence may be mass unemployment in affected industries. Another consequence of automation is deskilling. The term deskilling refers to the skills and knowledge needed to perform a job that are lost when automation takes over. What happens when the police become deskilled?

The deskilling of policing is inevitable because automation is increasingly a part of policing. Many American police departments already use artificial intelligence: it drives automatic license plate recognition, social media threat analysis, predictive policing software, security robots, facial recognition technology, and autonomous drones. Observers of the military have already begun to discuss the legal and policy effects that similar automation will have on soldiers, and on the nature of waging war itself.

The deskilling associated with automation will apply to the police, too. The increasing role that artificial intelligence and robotics will play in policing will mean not only that automation will help traditional policing, but that it will also replace some policing altogether. Replacement will mean that human police officers will face a deskilling issue. They will lose some of the core skills we associate with policing.

These changes may lie in the future, yet we can already identify some of the law and policy questions they will raise. First, automation and deskilling would undermine the Fourth Amendment’s premise that the police possess a specialized skill requiring judicial deference. Second, automation and deskilling may lead to dramatically different ways of organizing the police. Third, automation and deskilling force us to consider whether diminishing the social aspects of policing is worth the benefit of increased automation.

Keywords: policing, Fourth Amendment, artificial intelligence, surveillance, automation, algorithms

Suggested Citation

Joh, Elizabeth E., The Consequences of Automating and Deskilling the Police (September 9, 2019). __ UCLA L. Rev. Discourse (2019 Forthcoming), Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth E. Joh (Contact Author)

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

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

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics