(CN) — Santa Cruz, California, became the first known city in the U.S. to ban predictive policing on Tuesday, citing the inherent racial bias in the practice.
The Santa Cruz Council voted unanimously to ban predictive policing and facial recognition technology during a regular meeting, pointing to the current national reckoning with police violence as a motivating factor.
“We are trying to understand the needs and concerns of our community and the Black community in particular,” Santa Cruz Mayor Justin Cummings said.
Predictive policing describes the use of data analytics to determine where and when past crimes have been committed in an attempt to predict where they might occur again so that police departments can more efficiently allocate their resources.
Proponents say such efficiency can result in significant cost savings.
But critics say predictive policing can reinforce existing biases against communities that are already overpoliced, particularly minority communities.
“Predictive policing destroys the relationship between police and the community,” Santa Cruz Police Chief Andy Mills said.
The city council also talked about how facial recognition technology in its current form is biased against people of color.
“Scientific studies show that Asian women and black men are 100% more likely to be misidentified by facial recognition technology,” Mills said.
The resolution passed by the council contained language that would allow the city council to revisit the implementation of both policing technology practices, which irked some city residents that said both practices should be banned regardless of the racial injustice implications.
“If this technology gets better at identifying people of color it will still infringe on civil liberties of citizens and be invasive authoritarian and dystopian,” said Peter Yeblin, a citizen who called in during the meeting.
The entire meeting was via teleconference as the city council continues to meet remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Santa Cruz has seen multiple protests since the killing of George Floyd sent convulsions through the nation and induced a national conversation about how police interact with minorities.
Santa Cruz does not have a high population of black residents but does have a high share of Latino residents.
Mayor Cummings, who is black, said that in his conversations with minority residents most of them expressed appreciation for the city police department but asked that black and brown people are treated with the same deference and respect as other members of the community.
“A lot of them did not want to see the problem of systemic racism hijacked by other problems such as homelessness or drug addiction,” Cummings said.
Many citizens have called into city meetings in recent weeks demanding the city council curtail the police budget and have social services take over for activities typically reserved for the police, including responding to individuals with drug, mental health or housing problems.
“We do not need better trained police, we need less police,” said Reggie Muddler, a caller. “I’d like to see more social workers.”
Santa Cruz has a large population of homeless individuals and drug addiction problems are rife in the community.
But Mills said whittling funds was not the answer.
“It’s not about funding or not funding, it’s about effectiveness,” Mills said. “The question is what are we going to do to effectively manage institutionalized racism in our country.”
City Councilmember Sandy Brown said she agreed with the chief but noted that there was a sizable and persistent contingent in the community that will continue to call for the city council to take money away from police to fund other programs.
“It’s not a small subset,” she said. “It’s a legitimate demand for the city to reevaluate how we spend our money in the law enforcement arena.”
Along with the prohibition of predictive policing and facial recognition technology, Mills detailed other ways his department is working to reduce use of force incidents, including deescalation techniques, a ban on chokeholds, and requiring an immediate — not an imminent threat — for police to use force.