30,000 Cameras Can't Be Wrong: Chicago Banks On Surveillance To Solve Violence Problem

from the here's-looking-at-you,-Chicago-[unblinking-eye-pans-to-follow-passing-citize dept

Chicago’s gun violence rate — now in the midst of a long period of decline, never mind what the Attorney General and President say in public statements/tweet — has been a concern for a few years now. The DOJ, before being chased away from policing the police by Jeff Sessions, noted the PD had destroyed its relationship with city residents with unconstitutional policing and an antagonistic attitude. A couple of high-profile shootings of Chicago residents by police officers did nothing to help.

Chicago is the poster child for violent crime, despite its rate of crime being lower than under-the-radar cities like Ft. Worth, Memphis, and Houston. This had led to all sorts of solutions being suggested, including the return of unconstitutional policing (Attorney General), sending in the troops (President Trump), and a sharp uptick in surveillance (the Chicago PD).

The New York Times covers the city’s surveillance expansion under the headline “Can 30,000 Cameras Help Solve Chicago’s Crime Problem?” The answer is unclear, despite the many glowing reviews of the city’s camera network delivered by law enforcement officers and officials. The subhed — “But what does it mean for residents’ privacy?” — is barely discussed.

The network Chicago is deploying involves thousands of hi-def cameras, automatic license plate readers, mugshot databases, and predictive policing software. That the system went online roughly about the time homicide numbers began to decline has prompted praise — perhaps unearned — for the system’s ability to rid the city of its violent crime problem.

The department tested the use of technology in two of its most violent areas in early 2017. When crime began to fall, the department ultimately set aside space in 13 of its 22 police stations for the surveillance centers, which tap into the city’s approximately 30,000 government-operated closed-circuit cameras.

Inside, civilian crime analysts from the University of Chicago Crime Lab — self-described “nerds” who are often learning data science on the fly — and uniformed officers work side by side at computer terminals, scrutinizing crime data as they search for trends.

Much of the technology is similar to equipment used by dozens of police departments around the nation: sensors to detect the location of gunshots, software designed to predict the time and location of crimes and license plate readers that photograph thousands of plates per minute.

Cops like the system. It provides a wealth of information, starting with location of reported gunshots and working from there to bring up arrest records of people in the area and vehicle locations of suspects. Fun stuff for cops. Not so much for the thousands of innocent people who live in heavily-surveilled areas. Predictive policing software’s track record isn’t much better than facial recognition AI. Both have a tendency to generate false positives, but predictive policing allows cops to conjure reasonable suspicion out of ambient temperature, moon stages, and someone’s proximity to known criminals. You may think I’m being facetious, but here’s the receipt.

The civilian analysts spend much of their time feeding a range of information into software called HunchLab, which considers a number of variables — from gang tensions and gunshot reports to the number of parolees living in an area — to forecast crime by giving probability scores, much like a meteorological report.

HunchLab also examines less obvious data points, like the location of liquor stores and schools, an area’s proximity to local expressways, and even weather conditions and phases of the moon (there is more crime during full moons; no one knows why).

In reality, it seems to do little more than shore up preconceived notions. This is what may have gotten the city into the mess in the first place. And the DOJ’s inability to move forward with investigations of police forces means the PD may never have to answer fully for its unconstitutional behavior. What residents are getting instead of better police officers and policies is a massive surveillance network — one deployed with almost zero public comment or oversight. Some transparency has been put in place, but only after the system has been fully deployed, and it largely consists of invitations to community leaders to tour local “strategic centers” to look at the people looking at screens showing images of their friends and neighbors.

As local activist Kofi Ademola puts it, residents weren’t asked about the new system. They were simply told this was the way forward.

“There was not a conversation like, ‘Do you want this in your community?’ ” he said. “Instead, the Chicago police say, ‘This is in your community and it is going to cut crime,’ and unfortunately, people don’t question that. It’s now been normalized for these communities to be under constant surveillance, which contributes to the criminalization of people. It is problematic.”

The situation is unlikely to change. It won’t be scaled back, even if current crime rate declines plateau. To its proponents, it’s the only explanation for the decline in violence. Efforts have been made to overhaul stop-and-frisk policies, which may have helped community relations, but there’s no weight backing it up or codifying the changes. The DOJ isn’t going to step in and demand permanent changes and city officials have taken heat from law enforcement reps for the minimal corrective efforts they have managed to put in place.

Sure, the system may do some good, but at what societal cost? Will certain residents just assume their lives will be documented and stored in law enforcement databases so long as they live or work in certain neighborhoods? Will guilt by association increase the number of interactions with law enforcement just because they have the misfortune to live in gang territory or a few houses away from recently-released felons? Those are questions that no one can answer with anything but “yes” at this point. The police feel this is an acceptable tradeoff: lower crime for 24-hour surveillance. Those being surveilled have been given no say in the matter.

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “30,000 Cameras Can't Be Wrong: Chicago Banks On Surveillance To Solve Violence Problem”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

The trouble is that cameras will be using 3g, 4g, or 5g internet to communicate with the monitoring centers. There are jammers that can jam data, but not voice, so any mobile internet device within range of the jammer quits working, but voice calls still go through.

I had a neighbor in my apartment complex a few years ago who used one of those at dinner time, to keep his kids from either texting or using the internet during dinner, but voice calls would still go through. Becuase his jammer did not jam voice calls, that did not violate FCC rules, since jamming data does not break FCC rules.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Jammers are ILLEGAL

That depends on the jammer. The neighbors I had used to have jammers that jammed data, but not voice, so people could make and receive voice calls, it is just text and data that were blocked, voice calls could still made and received with no problem.

And I was told by apartment management of the time that their jammers were legal, becuase they did not interfere with voice calls, just data, and that his blocking of data so that his children would not either text or use the internet on their phone, was legal, from what I was told, because he did not jam voice communications, just data

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Jammers are ILLEGAL

The company managing the apartments at that time also told me their jamming was not illegal because the jamming signal did not go beyond the property. They told me to go to another part of the property if I needed to use my phone’s internet. The management who was here at that time told me these people were doing anything illegal because the jamming signal did not go beyond the property

Nobody driving by on the street was affected.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Jammers are ILLEGAL

The neighbors I had used to have jammers that jammed data, but not voice

No, they did not. The packets are exactly the same, the same frequencies, the same encoding, the same access method. short of decoding the packets you cannot tell what is in them, voice or data, they are exactly the same.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Reactive vs Proactive

The network Chicago is deploying involves thousands of hi-def cameras, automatic license plate readers, mugshot databases, and predictive policing software.

Hi-def cameras, automatic license plate readers, mugshot databases are all reactive. They might help catch someone after the fact. That predictive policing software, most likely a joke, and it will be a long, long, long time before it actually has sufficient data to prove its efficacy. In the meantime resources are being expended on things that will not prevent crime.

I would think Chicago, or any other municipality, would be better off spending their money on those things that are likely causes of crime. Poverty and homelessness come to mind. Getting the police under control might also help. There is also the likelihood that some portion of the corruption in Chicago is due to gangs or mob type operations that getting the police under control would mitigate.

Cameras and this other crap won’t prevent. Do other things.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Reactive vs Proactive

And then there are these anti camera license covers.

And with the radical environmentalists wanting to twist the endangered species act where you could go go prison for merely accidentally running over, say an endangered frog or snake, driving at night, having those are a good idea, so that no license plate readers in the area can record your plate number.

One thing I do now, as well, get my car washed more often, and pay cash, so there is no money trail to me, especially if I have recently done a lot of driving at night.

Washing my car to get rid of evidence of accidentally running over an endangered frog or snake at night, does, by itself, break any laws.

Washing my car to erase any evidence that might be used against me does not break any laws. I get the highest level wash which guarantees that nothing can ever be found to use as a test case against me. And doing that does not break any laws.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

From the city that ran a black site torturing people based on hunches.

There is no possible way the video will be edited to fit the narrative, I mean there was only the ONE cop who staged bodycam video to support the arrest after the fact.

People don’t trust the police, so that makes their job harder.
This distrust has deep roots in the history of the force.
They behave in ways worse than some of the gangs, and calling them for help can result in death… so what benefit is there in giving info on killers to killers?
The gangs keep control through fear and intimidation… how does the Chicgo PD keep control?? (Hint: It’s not Protect and Serve)

We keep throwing money at problems, praying the tech will magically solve it, ignoring that sometimes the most simple fixes would be cleaning up the police force, closing black sites, stop behaving like the gangs you are supposed to protect us from. Rebuild the trust, be the better option than letting the gangs patrol the neighborhood.

But lets waste more money on some magic beans that promise to solve the problems & ignore that fairy tales are just stories.

Anonymous Coward says:

> there is more crime during full moons; no one knows why

Better lighting. Under a full moon, even an area with zero artificial lighting can be visible enough to support human activity, whether criminal or not. Under a new moon, artificial lighting will be required – and if the area doesn’t provide its own, flashing torches around will likely draw the cops quickly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Jun 6th, 2018 @ 5:36am

“The authorities are approaching the problem the wrong way. The bulk of Chicago’s violent crime is coming from an extremely narrow demographic. More focus needs to be applied to that specific demographic.”

So in other words the cameras should be pointed at the cops?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Jun 6th, 2018 @ 5:36am

Yes, that would be a good start. Cleaning up the historically-corrupt Chicago police is a goal worth pursuing. Chicago could start by banning cops from taking jobs as “off duty officers” — especially those who work in less-than-reputable establishments.

Anonymous Coward says:

What's unclear?

The New York Times covers the city’s surveillance expansion under the headline "Can 30,000 Cameras Help Solve Chicago’s Crime Problem?" The answer is unclear, despite the many glowing reviews of the city’s camera network delivered by law enforcement officers and officials.

Looking over to London, I’m getting a pretty clear "no". What’s different here?

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...