Given the uglier moments in its history (e.g., the Rodney King beating, the Rampart scandal), few police departments operate under more scrutiny than the one in Los Angeles. As such, the LA Weekly asks this interesting question: who polices the police there? The somewhat surprising answer? A number-crunching shop known as TEAMS II.
While we're obviously not opposed to greater oversight at the LAPD, the precedent being set by TEAMS II could be a troubling one. According to a VP at the software firm that designed the program, TEAMS II puts the LAPD on the cutting edge of what the article calls "predictive policing". "It uses technology to deploy resources to take corrective actions before something happens ... extrapolating statistics to predict the future." Which is something that any civil libertarian should be deeply skeptical of. For one thing, statistical data can only be used to "predict the future" if the underlying relationships being estimated are stable over time. In the case of human behavior, this is never true: people learn, and their responses to stimuli may change if the (measured or unmeasured) covariates around them change. Second, determining that an individual's average score on some metric differs significantly from a group mean tells you nothing about the practical importance of that difference, and typically it fails to consider the importance of the distribution of such scores. If the LAPD plans to expand this system outside the realm of police oversight, Angelenos should be very concerned about how it might be applied, and how they might be treated if they're "flagged".