Back to the Future: Bratton Announces 'Predictive Policing' Is Here, 'Get Over It'

Another day, another reminder from NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton that the era of "predictive policing", the orwellian idea that cops can predict crime, is already here.

The New York Times' "Cities for Tomorrow" conference brought on Bratton, the police commissioner whose old ideas of yesterday (Broken Windows, COMPSTAT, etc) helped to create a virtual police state for communities of color, along with a former commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration to talk about big data and public safety. The idea being that government's use of data has "sophisticated" and "improved lives".

How and why the organizers of the event framed policing as "public safety", when a notable portion of the public perhaps doesn't feel so safe around police, was not discussed.

You can watch the video here.

I wrote about predictive policing earlier this year but for a thorough background on predictive policing and its roots, like the little known west coast prediction software company PredPol, check out Darwin Bond-Graham and Ali Winston's 2013 San Francisco Weekly article, "All Tomorrow's Crimes".

The roots of predictive policing, which seems to have been first implemented in earnest in California and overlap with counter-insurgency technology designed for the U.S. military, can also be found in Petra Bartosiewicz's May Harper's article:

The aim of the system was to accumulate data points so that police could anticipate where future criminal activity was likely to occur. The LAPD teamed up with an anthropologist named Jeffrey Brantingham and a mathematician named Andrea Bertozzi, a pair of UCLA professors who had received U.S. Army grants to develop data-intensive predictive algorithms to track insurgent activity in Iraq. The model has been developed into proprietary software called PredPol, a domestic-intelligence-gathering product that is used by the LAPD and other law-enforcement agencies. When I spoke with Bratton recently, he insisted that there is no conflict between community policing and predictive policing, which he views as part of "the continuing evolution of law enforcement." Intelligence gathering, he said, is the very basis on which policing is founded. "It's what police have always done, to observe and identify changing patterns of behavior." He suggested that most community members did not have a problem with surveillance: "I don't think the public is too concerned with us using technology to prevent crime. People don't get upset when doctors use technology to prevent Alzheimer's or cancer."

On Tuesday morning, Bratton smugly declared, "It's here, get over it," while announcing, not so much pitching (again, it's already here, sans any public debate) predictive policing to a room of full of movers and shakers, who all politely laughed in support. The conference was put together to discuss the future of the city. From the looks of it the conference's panelists were nearly all white men, including Bratton. The event was hosted by the New York Times and sponsored by CitiBank and the Rockefeller Foundation, the always uninspiring coming together of power-friendly media, banks and white philanthropy.

This wasn't the first time Bratton has openly talked about such a potentially controversial subject. He's spoken about predictive policing in interviews. His frank talk about it, in my mind, is a reflection of the non-threat he sees the media as--although the crime prediction software company the NYPD is contracting with was reported on at least once this. However, his notorious arrogance may have gotten the better of him as he made off the cuff remarks about having sci-fi powers at his disposable.

"Predictive Policing, think Tom Cruise, Minority Report back in 2002... I can do that in my office now."

Bratton, who has compared data-driven policing along the lines of medicine (he's talked about Stop & Frisk -- which he helped to bring about -- as a cancer medicine in the past), also stressed the importance of "reliable" data in making decisions. He made the comment in the context of a slew of stories about cops in the Bronx misrepresenting crime reports to make crime fighting seem more efficient. Bratton was furious after 19 cops and the precinct commander from the 40th precinct were caught massaging the numbers. He was probably upset at the idea of the reality (cops have long manipulated data in whichever way suited them) on the ground sullying his long-celebrated, but ultimately destructive, idea that cops could and should police for the numbers.

As scary as the idea of the police having even more power post-Eric Garner might be, it gets really deep down the rabbit hole depending on how far you dig. Bratton, who described this next wave of technology as COMPSTAT 2.0, has glowed about how "everything old is new again". Recently, he dusted off an old police program and has begun piloting it in Brooklyn and Queens. The program, called CENTCOM, coincidentally shares the same name as a US military command overseas and would unshackle precincts to "attack problem spots with the full force of the department's resources."

This wasn't talked about when Bratton unveiled plans for kinder, gentler 'community policing' plan just last month, naturally.

Recently, Raven Rakia has written about the NYPD's Operation Crew Cut, a largely unknown but hugely controversial police program that surveils and builds conspiracy charges on alleged crew members. A huge gang raid last year June, the city's biggest, that resulted in over 100 indictments of West Harlem men and boys came out of Crew Cut. The program has the support of the same city council members (Brooklyn's Jumaane Williams and Brad Lander, in particular) that supported anti-Stop & Frisk legislation in 2013 but gave Bratton 1,297 extra cops for next year's city budget.

Broken Windows, it seems, was just the beginning.