Written by: Alek Hidell
If you would have told the American public in 1956, that the concepts Philip K. Dick put forth in his sci-fi masterpiece Minority Report would actually become reality, they would have said you were crazy. You would have probably received the same reaction in 2002 when Tom Cruise starred in the blockbuster theatrical rendition of the story. In Minority Report, the police have the ability to predict crime before the crime occurs, using psychics called precogs. The would-be offenders are then incarcerated based on the crimes they would have committed. On the surface it sounds simple enough. Eliminate crime by preventing it. Well, crime prevention has been a facet of police work ever since the first criminal committed the first crime. The problem is that crime prevention techniques are a slippery slope. People want to feel safe and that the police are protecting them from the dangerous elements in society. If your home was broken into three times, you’d be pretty mad at the police for not doing enough to prevent it. The flip side of this coin is, if you were walking home in the middle of the night and the cops stopped and harassed you for no reason other than you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, then you would be pretty upset. We can’t have it both ways. We need cops to respond to crime and to prevent crime. The hardest thing for police agencies to do is to properly navigate the slippery slope which is preventative policing.
This brings us to the Chicago PD’s Heat List. The Heat List attempts to predict the future, not with psychics but with computers and a proprietary algorithm. This algorithm is able to sift through massive amounts of crime statistics and data, and has come up with a list of 400 of Chicago’s most dangerous people. Chicago PD actually sent officers to the homes of these 400 people to “warn” them not to step out of line. To me, this crosses the line from preventative policing to invasive policing. There are a few different angles here I want to touch upon, the first being an inherit flaw in policing in general. From the perspective of the individual, when one enters the work force, one can take pride in their efforts to grow a company and reach organizational goals. There is a great sense of pride in knowing that you as an individual can directly be responsible for expanding a business or cause and can leave your mark, so to speak. In police work, the goal is not to grow, the goal is not to further a cause. The goal is to maintain a societal status quo. Herein lies the problem. Cops trying to climb the chain of command have to constantly try to reinvent the wheel and have to out do every other cop in order to gain the attention of their superiors. That is where invasive policing programs typically come into being. I worked for an agency that had such a problem with unlocked car vehicle burglaries, that they wanted officers to go around pulling on car door handles trying to find would-be victims. The officer was then supposed to lock the door and leave a note. Um, that’s a vehicle burglary in and of itself. Needless to say, that program didn’t last, but it is a great example of how cops trying to get attention of the boss are willing to compromise your rights just to get ahead.
I am more fearful of Chicago’s Heat List program, as this program appears to have trickled down from our intelligence communities, not from ambitious cops. The program was funded by the National Institute of Justice and was previously called Two Degrees of Separation. The grant was designed to develop predictive policing methods, however the technology behind the Heat List closely resembles programs already utilized by the NSA. The NSA tracks pretty much everything, from phone calls to emails, Facebook to Twitter. The NSA’s program runs on a principle of Three Degrees of Separation, which tracks you and your friends and your friends friends in order to determine what level of a threat you are. Funny how a program name change here and there and they think we wont see that the technology being used to spy on us on a national level is being proliferated to the same police forces that are driving tanks and wearing full military style tactical gear. The emerging police state is even more evident when you make the connection between the trickling down of intelligence tracking programs and the direct militarization of police forces.
So where do you draw the line between preventative policing and outright invasive policing methods? Even with all my years of experience, I can’t answer that question. What I do know, is that every time a program like Chicago’s Heat List is exposed, it is our duty to make sure that the powers that be know we will not stand for invasive police programs. The creators of programs like this need to be identified and made to answer for their part in the degradation of your privacy and freedom. No longer should we accept following orders as an excuse for police officers crossing the line and infringing upon your personal liberties. We are people, not statistics. Only in exposing the truly sinister nature of the government’s intrusions into our lives will we ever change anything.