LOS ANGELES (CN) – Data-driven policing strategies and artificial intelligence-driven technologies utilized by the Los Angeles Police Department lacked oversight in their implementation and often strayed from their stated goals, an internal audit found Friday.
Some of the largest law enforcement agencies in the country use so-called predictive policing programs and technologies to forecast where and when crime will occur in their communities.
Those technologies, while seen by police as objective tools, have come under scrutiny by advocates who claim the tools disproportionately target those who are low-income or people of color and that they collect data on individuals without consent.
Under the auspices of two LAPD programs – Predpol and Operation Los Angeles Strategic Extraction and Restoration program, or LASER – officers scan license plates across the city, conduct in-person interviews with so-called chronic offenders and analyze crime data to determine which individuals are most likely to commit or recommit crimes.
LASER draws on technology developed by data giant Palantir, which mines government and private company databases to build extensive profiles of individuals.
Predpol uses historical data from both property and violent crime reports to identify which city blocks are most likely to be the site of crimes.
Privacy rights advocates crowded an August 2018 Board of Police Commissioners hearing on the programs and demanded a thorough review of new policing tools utilized by LAPD.
Commissioners agreed and ordered the resulting 48-page audit by Inspector General Mark Smith, though a third data-driven policing tool called the Suspicious Activity Program was not analyzed in the report.
The audit found that training on how to use the programs was “informal” and that different departments across city adapted the programs “for their own use,” which led to inconsistencies in how the programs were utilized.
The LAPD’s Chronic Offender Program – the in-person interview component of LASER, which was first introduced in the city in 2011- utilized a department database of so-called chronic offenders who had few, if any, actual contact with officers.
Of the more than 230 “active” individuals listed on 637-person chronic offender list – which is not available to the public – almost 80 percent are black and Latino men, the audit found.
The arrests and stops of people listed on the database could also not be clearly tied to LASER-relative activities, the audit found.
“These inconsistencies appeared to be related to a lack of centralized oversight, as well as a lack of formalized and detailed protocols and procedures,” the audit said. “ To the extent the Department continues to deploy a person-based strategy, more rigorous parameters about the selection of people, as well as the tracking of data, should allow for a better assessment of these issues.”
A more formal, standardized training was recommended for officers using the programs going forward.
Various inconsistencies with LASER data troubled auditors, with more than a third coming from department vehicles that were scanned as squad cars with license plate readers entered police stations and department parking lots.
A department trend towards using LASER as a crime-deterrence strategy was endorsed in the audit, rather than one that uses it to arrest and remove residents from communities listed as having high crime rates.
“While the overall goal might be the general reduction of violent crime, a program focused on extraction may naturally count an arrest of a particular person as a measure of success, while one focused on deterrence might ostensibly look for the absence of a crime and/or an arrest involving the person,” the audit said.
LAPD forecasts and analysis of crime trends – collected by using GPS data to track the amount of time officers spent in certain areas of the city – found that crime rates decreased with increased officer presence, but the audit found that a region-by-region breakdown of crime data found “more mixed” results.
The audit noted that the LAPD said it intends to introduce a “precision policing” strategy that “combines intensive crime analysis – and a focused response that values precision over high levels of enforcement – with neighborhood engagement and collaboration.”
An LAPD spokesperson did not immediately to respond to a request for comment on the audit, which noted that officials have begun making changes to the programs under review.
The commission is set to discuss the audit at a public hearing on Tuesday.