York County Libertarian Party

York County Police Seeking Federal Funds for Pre-Crime Intelligence System

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Predictive Analysis and Automated Suspicion: The New Sheriff’s In Town


A recent York Daily Record/Sunday News report by Rick Lee covers the York City Police Department’s grant application for a countywide intelligence analyst purportedly to help ‘track guns’.

I would have glossed over this article if it weren’t for YCPD Chief Kahley’s overly-pacifying comments on gun laws:

“We have enough gun laws, we shouldn’t be taking guns away from law-abiding citizens,” he said. “But we have to identify how the guns are getting on the streets.”

I’ve been butting heads with Chief Kahley for far too many years on gun laws and other city issues to be that easily rocked to sleep. The fact of the matter is the York City Police Department, with a little help from the York County District Attorney, is seeking to significantly alter the face of policing in York as we know it. So, I dug deeper beneath the platitudes. If you do, too, here’s what you’ll see.

Guns Are a Red Herring

It’s odd that the YDR chose to report the grant initiative as a countywide proposal to stop gun trafficking and gun crime. The grant application itself offers no detail or explanation of what exactly will be done to curb gun crime. Not a single traceable method or tactic other than vague generalities and suppositions. What it does talk about is using computer models and algorithms to predict your movements. Where have we heard that before? More on that later.

York City Police Using ‘Flawed Data’ in Grant Application?

Earlier this year, York City Police Chief Wes Kahley called the data in his department’s grant application into question. Speaking on a Neighborhood Scout study that used FBI crime data to rank York City the 18th most dangerous city in the U.S., Kahley had this to say:

York City Police Chief Wes Kahley says he’s seen the numbers and doesn’t give Neighborhood Scout much credit. “I think their methodology is flawed,” Kahley said last week. “. . . I think that the real story is York city has its lowest crime since 2003.” – Rebecca Lefever – York Daily Record/Sunday News

That stands in sharp contrast to the York City Police Department’s grant application concept paper.

On page 12 of the YCPD grant application, the department lists the Neighborhood Scout data as the main problem it seeks to solve in applying for the grant.

In light of this glaring contradiction (read opportunistic hypocrisy), I’m compelled to ask Chief Kahley and the department, which is it? Is the data listing York as the 18th most dangerous city in the U.S. only valid when it facilitates the procurement of grant funds and officer job security, or is it flawed and inaccurate as you have repeatedly publicly said it is?

Precrime, Data Mining and the Fourth Amendment

Now we get to the real essence of the plans. It’s about data and information dominance. Page 14 of the grant concept paper says police will build a ‘human intelligence clearinghouse’ that will be shared with 23 police departments throughout York County. The paper also mentions utilizing recommendations from the National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan.

Since this is a federally funded program, it’s likely that federal mandates will require the data be warehoused in federal fusion centers. This practice is problematic on several levels, as the BORDC points out:

“fusion centers collect data without any of the constitutional safeguards normally associated with criminal investigations. This problem is compounded by the fact that fusion centers often fall through supervisory cracks. Because they are collaborations between federal, state, county, and municipal agencies, as well as private entities, it is often unclear who really has ultimate control.”

Residents should be uneasy, at best, about the York City Police Department openly stating it wants to erect an ‘intelligence clearinghouse’ to facilitate sharing of data. The department has yet to provide a data policy regulating the usage of its license plate scanners. The city uses its scanners to enable wholesale, retroactive, suspicion-less surveillance by creating detailed databases of the driving patterns of innocent county residents.

Without a data policy in place, we don’t know who has access to the records kept on innocent motorists, with whom police share the data, why it’s being kept, or for how long the records remain in existence.

YCPD Police Captain: “We need Computers to Think for Us”

The police proposal also calls for what they call ‘proactive and predictive policing’. This is a quack science utilized by the law enforcement industry, known as pre-crime. Pre-crime systems are already in use in NY and LA, along with other cities in the U.S.

Basically, police use computer models to create algorithms that ‘predict’ where citizens will be based on where they have been in the past, and collate that data with crime stats to create a witches brew of retroactive surveillance, data mining and automated suspicion.

Local police want to supplant officer discretion, a flawed model in and of itself, and replace reasonable suspicion with a mechanized software program. YCPD Captain Russel Tschopp said it best, when describing local officers’ reliance on technology, he said “we need computers that think for us”.

YCPD Captain: “We Need Computers That Think for Us”

An article from the Smithsonian rightfully points out some of the many flaws with this computerized ‘predictive policing’ approach:

“I think what you would say is the worst case — and I don’t even think this is that far-fetched — is that there will be a case where someone gets stopped on a street corner for suspicion of burglary. It’ll go before a court, and they’ll say, ‘OK, officer, what was your reasonable suspicion for stopping this person?’

“And he’ll say, ‘The computer told me,’ essentially, right? ‘The computer said look out for burglaries, I saw this guy in the location, so I stopped him because he looked like a burglar.’ And race, class, all of those things obviously are a part of it. And the judge will then just defer.

“How are you going to cross-examine the computer?”

Predictive policing raises many fourth amendment concerns. This paper from the Emory Law Journal is an excellent resource.

The Big Picture

The way the computerized predictive policing model works is by analyzing data to guess future movements and patterns. Computers have become very good at this. Couple this with the fact the York City Police Department has been collecting exact, detailed data on the mobility patterns of all citizens in York going on two years now and concerns become graver.

I’ve written on how the Department of Homeland Security instructs police agencies to use license plate scanners to create ‘individualized threat mosaics’ based on data collected from motorists’ driving habits. Key speakers at law enforcement training conferences have touted the surveillance benefits of scanner databases enabling google searches on citizens location history.

This latest proposal is yet another in the long trend of federalized policing templates replacing local reform with ill-suited cookie cutter one-size-fits-all solutions to local problems, abdicating community control of policing to the detriment of citizen privacy and safeguards along the way.

This plan also masks the building of a regional policing infrastructure, without community control or input. Although the grant was applied for solely by the York City Police Department, it mentions collaboration among 23 police departments across the county. Once the federal funds start flowing and the subsequent federal mandates take hold, the top-down policing model will have woven a web of inter-reliance and dependency that will ultimately comprise the regionalized model of policing going forward.

Get involved. Ask questions. Demand open deliberation and the construction of requisite safeguards throughout the implementation of this new process. No matter what happens, York County, don’t say you weren’t warned.

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