WE KNOW HOW artificial intelligence works in our lives: it helps in pickingmovies,choos- ing dates, and correcting misspellings. But what does it
mean in policing? Is AI replacing traditional police tasks? Does the police use
of AI present novel challenges? Should
increasing police reliance on AI concern us? The answer to these questions
is “Yes.” In the past decade the increasing reliance by police on artificial intelligence tools raises questions about
how to strike the right balance between
public safety and civil liberties.
Think of policing and you are likely to imagine a uniformed patrol officer scanning the environment for
suspicious activity. The most powerful tools an officer once possessed
were a gun, experience, and training. But new technologies are changing the way the police approach the
streets. Automated license plate
readers that identify hundreds of
plates a minute are commonplace.
The Chicago Police Department uses
Law and Technology
an algorithm that identifies which
city residents may be at especially
high risk as perpetrators or victims
of gun violence.
1 The police in Fres-
no, CA, piloted an alert system that
tells an officer whether the driver the
police officer just pulled over to the
side of the road poses a threat.
this list we can also add facial recog-
nition, suspect profiling, and finan-
cial anomaly detection.
Seeking the delicate balance between civil liberties
and policing public safety.
˲ James Grimmelmann, Column Editor
always relied upon
But the scale
of its processing
These technologies are transforming
the police. There is the sheer amount
of data now potentially available to the
police, including all our online activity,
digitized analog information, and our
movements through space and time.
And artificial intelligence transforms
this data into actionable predictions
and identifications. Policing has always
relied upon large amounts of information. But the scale and speed of its processing today is different, and therefore
warrants new scrutiny.
We might say policing is becoming
2 The identification of suspicious activity—a skill
we typically associate with police officers—can increasingly be handed off
to artificial intelligence. Just as companies use AI to identify bad credit risks
and good employment prospects, police departments are using these tools
to figure out which people and places
they think deserve scrutiny. Dozens of
police departments, for instance, use
PredPol, which uses a machine learning algorithm to predict those 500-
by-500 foot sections of the city where