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In order for law enforcement to pull someone over, courts require police to have “reasonable suspicion” for doing so. This suspicion can be raised by something as seemingly slight as “furtive movements” or ducking below the dashboard.

But new software is going one step further and aims to put a stop to crime altogether, by arming law enforcement with predictions on where crime is likely to occur—before it even happens. Read on for the possible implications of this new technology, including whether or not it’s a constitutional basis for reasonable suspicion.

Hunting for a Gunman

Photo provided by Michael Gil

What is it and how does it work?

The technology began as a research project. UCLA anthropologist Jeff Brantingham wondered if the method computers use to predict earthquake aftershocks could be applied to predicting future crime. And, it turns out, it can.

The software, aptly named PredPol, forecasts where crime will move based on past statistics. Sounds like something right out of the film Minority Report, right? The difference between that and the PredPol is that it pinpoints where crimes are likely to take place, not who is likely to commit them. A red box indicates the projected crime locations on a map, so police can head to those areas and attempt to prevent the crimes from actually occurring.

According to Brantingham, the technology predicts twice the amount of crime as any other system and is on par with a crime analyst.

Does information from PredPol count as “reasonable suspicion”?

Law professor Andrew Guthrie Ferguson says departments that use PredPol have instructed police that it should not be used to justify stops and officers should only stop people who provide ample evidence aside from the predicting software. But Ferguson has doubts that this will last. He finds it likely that, since PredPol does constitute part of a police officer’s suspicion, the issue may be raised when the officer testifies, and then the court will have to address it at that point.

PredPol may count as a constitutional basis for stopping someone. Some people may even find it a more objective method than a police officer’s own judgment, since it is less susceptible to racial biases and other profiling methods.

While Ferguson admits that this line of thinking may be sound, he stresses the importance of being careful. The PredPol predictions are only as unbiased as the statistics that fuel it. If that data is biased, the results may be, too.

If you feel police have unfairly stopped, arrested, or searched you and need legal counsel, contact Gabriel L. Grasso, the leading criminal defense attorney in Las Vegas at 702-868-8866.