Biased predictive policing funded by US gov, lawmakers say

A cadre of Democratic lawmakers are demanding the federal government stop funding predictive policing systems due to their racist and discriminatory algorithms.

The group of seven US lawmakers, led by New York Congress member Yvette Clarke and Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, appealed to the US Attorney General’s office in a letter released to the public Monday.

The group claims predictive policing systems currently in use today have been proven to over-predict crime in Black and Latino neighborhoods based on flawed and simplistic models.

The letter cites a 2019 study on “dirty policing” – a practice of feeding faulty, racially biased, and sometimes crooked data into the AI predictive software, which then spits out algorithms based on “dirty data.”

“Mounting evidence indicates that predictive policing technologies do not reduce crime. Instead, they worsen the unequal treatment of Americans of color by law enforcement,” the members wrote.

“The continued use of such systems creates a dangerous feedback loop: biased predictions are used to justify disproportionate stops and arrests in minority neighborhoods, which further biases statistics on where crimes are happening,” the letter stated.

Sen Ron Wyden DoJ predictive policing letter

Human rights groups around the world have criticized AI-driven policing for misidentifying people of color more often than their white counterparts.

The pre-crime algorithms have also been blamed for increased police harassment of minorities in cities where the systems are used.

DoJ funding predictive policing since 2009

In 2021, Wyden and Clarke sent their first letter to the US Department of Justice (DoJ) asking about its funding policies regarding predictive policing systems - noting that the DoJ has been funding grants for the technology since 2009.

The lawmakers point out that under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “it is unlawful for programs that the DoJ funds to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin, even unintentionally.”

Predictive policing expert, author, and American University Washington College law professor Andrew G. Ferguson commented on the lawmakers’ stance on X.

“So this Wyden letter is good,” Ferguson posted.

“It could have and should have been written 10 years ago when DoJ funding arms began funding predictive policing. It could also be asked about all police surveillance tech (which is almost all seeded by DoJ),” he said.

Last May, after pressure from several human rights watchdog groups, in a landmark vote, the European Union voted to ban the use of predictive policing systems across the 27-nation bloc.

The EU Parliament also voted to amend the more recently passed AI ACT to prevent machine learning surveillance systems from scraping data that would single out minorities.

Lawmakers want changes now

After taking more than a year to reply to Wyden's original letter, the DoJ admitted it did not know how much federal money had been distributed to US law enforcement agencies for the biased systems over the years, nor did it have any review process to ensure recipients of the grants were in compliance with the Civil Rights Act.

The group said until the DoJ can guarantee the technologies are being used in non-discriminatory ways, all funding for predictive policing systems stop immediately.

The lawmakers also want the DoJ to compile and maintain a public database of agencies using the AI software, establish standards for its use, and create a system to regularly review how the grant recipients are using the technology.

Wyden, who has served in the Senate for over 25 years, is known for getting involved in various hot-button digital issues, most recently calling out the National Security Agency (NSA) for buying up the private data of average Americans via illegal data brokers.

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