Kim Lyons, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
January 29, 2024
U.S. Sen John Fetterman (D-Pa.) was one of seven Democratic members of Congress to sign a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice calling on the agency to stop funding so-called “predictive” police software, much of which is widely considered inaccurate and, in many cases, discriminatory.
“Mounting evidence indicates that predictive policing technologies do not reduce crime,” the letter led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore) and U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) states. “Instead, they worsen the unequal treatment of Americans of color by law enforcement. The continued use of such systems creates a dangerous feedback loop: biased predictions are used to justify disproportionate stops and arrests in minority neighborhoods, which further biases statistics on where crimes are happening.”
Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Peter Welch of Vermont, Alex Padilla of California and Ed Markey of Massachusetts also signed the letter.
The systems use flawed assumptions and simplistic models, according to a release from the lawmakers, and often over-predict crime in Black and Latino neighborhoods. They write in the letter that predictive policing systems “rely on historical data that is distorted by falsified crime reports and disproportionate arrests of people of color.”
The lawmakers cite a 2019 report from researchers at New York University that analyzed a dozen jurisdictions — including Philadelphia — with histories of unlawful police practices that had used or developed AI predictive policing tools. The researchers urged that such tools “be treated with high levels of caution.”
Wyden and Clarke requested information from the DOJ in 2021 about what predictive policing systems it had funded, the lawmakers added, and it took nearly a year for the agency to reply. The DOJ admitted in 2022 that it did not know how much federal grant money it had given through its Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program to law enforcement agencies that had then spent the funds on predictive policing tools.
“We urge you to halt all Department of Justice grants for predictive policing systems until the DOJ can ensure that grant recipients will not use such systems in ways that have a discriminatory impact,” the new letter states.
Under the Civil Rights Act, it is unlawful for programs funded by the DOJ to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin, even unintentionally, the letter notes, and the agency is required to review whether grant recipients are in compliance.
The members of Congress also requested that the DOJ’s upcoming report to President Joe Biden on the use of artificial intelligence by law enforcement investigate predictive policing techniques.
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