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‘Predictive policing’: Big-city departments face lawsuits

July 5, 2018

Some of the nation’s largest police departments are being sued for not releasing information about their “predictive policing” programs, which use algorithms to crunch data and create lists of people and neighborhoods for officers to target. A look at some of the cases:

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CHICAGO

The city’s predictive system creates a Strategic Subjects List that rates certain people on how likely they are to become perpetrators or victims of gun violence. Police and social workers visit people on the so-called “heat list” in an effort to prevent shootings and offer information on services. There are about 400,000 people on the list.

A group of journalists sued Chicago police last year in an effort to get information on what data goes into the so-called “heat list” and how it is used. The case remains pending.

Chicago police have released some, but not all, of the requested data, said Matthew Topic, a lawyer for the journalists.

The Chicago department does not comment on lawsuits, spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said, but officials believe the department’s system is helping to reduce crime.

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LOS ANGELES

The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition sued the police department in February seeking data about its predictive-policing program. The LAPD has released some data to the group but hasn’t handed over other information, including copies of “chronic offender bulletins” that list people of interest to police. The lawsuit remains pending.

The LAPD can’t release some information because of concerns about citizens’ privacy, and other data sought by Saba’s group doesn’t exist, said Josh Rubinstein, a police spokesman.

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NEW ORLEANS

A partnership between city police and Palantir went undisclosed to the public and some city council members for six years, until it was exposed in February in a report by The Verge. Soon after the report, then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office announced it would not be renewing the contract with Palantir, saying the technology was no longer being used in daily operations.

Information about New Orleans’ predictive policing program is now being sought in court by Kentrell Hickerson, who is appealing his convictions on gang-related charges. Hickerson said prosecutors should have given him any information about city police’s possible use of Palantir in his case, NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune reported.

A judge said in April that Hickerson can subpoena city officials for the information. The case remains pending.

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NEW YORK

A state judge in December ordered police to release records about its predictive policing analytical tools after officials declined to disclose documents requested by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. The center is seeking information about the department’s use of Palantir’s products and other records.

Lawyers for city police are now asking the judge to allow them to re-argue that some records are exempt from disclosure because they are trade secrets and may harm Palantir’s competitive position. The case is pending.

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