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fear, crime and terrorism in the u.s.

bud levin

we have long known that there is little relationship between crime rate and people’s fear of crime. facts don’t matter very much. (e.g., http://abs.sagepub.com/content/39/4/379.short)

a recent RAND publication reminds us that terrorism has declined.
“…an overall decline of terrorism in the West since the 1970s.
These findings suggest that the threat of terrorism should not affect individuals’ behavior in the United States and Western Europe-not even in the wake of a significant terrorist event.”(http://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE173.html )

faint hope, that. fear of terrorism remains high (http://www.gallup.com/poll/4909/terrorism-united-states.aspx)
implication: if we focus merely on terrorism- and crime-fighting we will be missing the reassurance that many in our population seek. they seek a perception of “safety” rather than absence of terrorism and crime.

on the up side, if people were rational, we wouldn’t need many cops.

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What Will Police Do With Ubiquitous Information?

bud levin

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/04/cashless-society/477411/

the author makes a good argument — that in a cashless society, we (public and private sectors) will have information on nearly every detail of people’s lives. cash inevitably will be, as the author says, supplanted by information — and to a considerable extent already is.

the arguments will make the current fbi vs apple sort of argument seem rather penny ante. police — or private sector surrogates — will have comprehensive information about everyone’s lives, including those of other police.

what is clear is that the potential for “enemy of the state” on steroids is real. what is not clear is what police will do with that information.

how could — or should — law enforcement (and police) prepare for this probable future?

Data on Police Use of Force

bud levin

View story at Medium.com

nick gives an example of how one might properly analyse data. department-wide data usually are not very helpful. the devil — and the opportunity for improvement — are in the details, in crosstabs, in demographics, in ……

gross averages hide more than they reveal.

imagine police departments that had crime analysts, or analysts of any sort, who had the statistical and scientific chops to collect and crunch the numbers in a meaningful way instead of in a way intended to garner (or combat) headlines.

of course, that would require a lot of imagination. few chiefs can afford to hire such folks. but wouldn’t it be interesting if analysis were to supplant politicized and uninformed argument?

Policing: Numbers versus Relationships

Bud Levin

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2016/02/03/policing-the-future

the above is a nice article describing versions of “predictive policing.”  however, the underlying problem is not the details of software but the tension between policing by the numbers and policing by relationships.
traditional policing has valued numbers, even though we haven’t necessarily paid a lot of attention to them as we work day-to-day. some of us have paid a lot of attention to relationships while others not so much, focusing more on “catching bad guys.”
to what extent is that tension driving ambivalence among officers — “productivity” versus relationship-building. is there yet a department that validly quantifies relationship-building?  or does it remain as ill-defined as pornography, “we know it when we see it?”
moving forward, does what we measure comport well with what we are trying to do? if not, does measurement matter? how do we move forward?

Using Community Policing to Prevent Violent Extremism

Bud Levin

http://sites.duke.edu/tcths/files/2013/06/2015-full-report-FINAL1.pdf

The task, preventing violent extremism, reminds one of “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” While Lamont Cranston might have known, for the rest of us the task remains foreboding.

Any of us should be grateful when simple, understandable and credible hope is put forth. Schanzer et al. have done us that favor. Still, the limits — mostly as laid out by the authors — should be understood.

These are “promising.” We’ve seen promises evaporate in other contexts. These are not easy to pull off. And the barriers to success are non-trivial.

The spreading of misinformation online

Bud Levin

Michela Del Vicario and colleagues wrote an interesting research paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2016/01/02/1517441113.full.pdf). They studied how scientific information and “unsubstantiated rumors and conspiracy theories” are spread via Facebook.

It turns out that both types of information tend to spread via homogeneous  “echo chambers.” Scientific information tends to get out faster. The rumors and conspiracy theories have a much longer distribution cycle. And neither group of people talks much to the other.

Most likely, this will surprise few of us. These sorts of processes have been going on since there has been something recognizable as science.  The challenge for policing remains how to cope with the spread of rumors and conspiracy theories as their consumers tend to be isolated from sources of scientific evidence.

The challenge goes even beyond that.  Police, too, are people, subject to many of the same social processes that affect private citizens. Police, too, may be isolated from scientific evidence.  That makes police leadership somewhat of a challenge.

So, as chiefs and sheriffs lead their organizations toward various futures, how can they best enhance the distribution of objective evidence, cope with rumors and conspiracy theories, and encourage the sharing of information across narratives?  Surely, transparency can help — rumors and conspiracy theories emerge more often when the supply of objective information is limited. But what else can or should be done?

 

A Set of Boundary Problems

Bud Levin

When U.S. President Reagan was shot, the U.S. went through some soul-searching — and some sense of vengeance — regarding responsibility of those who were mentally ill and also committed a criminal act.  States took two diverse approaches, approximately:

  1. Guilty but mentally ill:  The person would be imprisoned but some treatment might be made available in prison versus
  2. Not guilty by reason of insanity: The person would not be held responsible criminally but could be committed to a mental facility.

There is still disagreement about which approach is preferable and how well each of them works.  But we’ve also got a second and even more complicated problem. Where is the boundary between religious zealotry and mental illness — and terrorism.  An instructive case is that of the Philadelphia police officer who was attacked Thursday night (http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/08/us/philadelphia-police-officer-shot/) by someone with a history of mental illness and who claimed to be acting on behalf of Islam and in the name of ISIS.

In the Philadelphia case, how does one separate out the terrorism dimension from the mental illness and from religious zealotry?  What rules should police and prosecutors follow? Also keep in mind that the first two clauses of the first amendment to the U.S. constitution guarantee religious freedom.

Labels are convenient and attractive because they are simple. Because they are simple, they can be used to achieve political ends and to unite mobs (virtual or physical).  But real cases rarely are so simple.

Police are faced daily with real people who are multidimensional. As transparency burgeons, information on these individuals and their interactions with police will be even more rapidly and widely shared. The potential for firing up mobs and intemperate individuals is significant.

The choices that police have are limited somewhat by law and by service availability.  To give a concrete example of the latter, my department wants to be able to refer first-time drug offenders to treatment instead of arresting them. Unfortunately, treatment resources are very limited, so they become enmeshed in the criminal justice system — which rarely makes things better and always is expensive to all parties.

Both strategically and tactically, what should police do while enmeshed in such mine fields? Whatever your answer, now play out the processes and the political winds/whimsy to test the viability of the answer.