How Predictive Policing Got A Chicago Man Shot Twice
from the putting-someone-in-peril-in-the-name-of-public-safety dept
The Chicago Police Department is already seriously awful. Its reliance on software to decide who and where to police isn’t making it any better. Predictive policing is only as good as the input data, and if the data is being input by police departments with long histories of biased policing, it’s only going to generate algorithmic excuses for future biased policing.
Law enforcement officials call predictive policing a game changer. In reality, it appears to be little more than a way to ensure some people — due to the area they live in or the people they know — endure endless harassment by law enforcement officers. The ideal is cities being steadily scrubbed of crime by proactive officers. The reality is officers making multiple visits a month to certain homes to issue tickets for uncut grass.
And that’s kind of a best case scenario, believe it or not. It can get far worse. The Chicago PD has been using predictive policing software for years and it hasn’t given the department better cops or done anything to reduce the violent crime rate. But it has made people miserable. And it has made — at least in one case examined in depth by Matt Stroud for The Verge — one Chicago man the target of criminal violence.
Robert McDaniel — who was one of the first city residents to make the PD’s “heat list” back in 2013 — isn’t a violent criminal. In fact, his criminal history consists of nothing more than pot possession and illegal gambling. But he made the list because of where he lives (a Chicago neighborhood in which 10 percent of the city’s murders have taken place) and who he knows. But even the cops who informed McDaniel of his presence on the “heat list” weren’t sure what to do with this data.
[T]hey told McDaniel something he could hardly believe: an algorithm built by the Chicago Police Department predicted — based on his proximity to and relationships with known shooters and shooting casualties — that McDaniel would be involved in a shooting. That he would be a “party to violence,” but it wasn’t clear what side of the barrel he might be on. He could be the shooter, he might get shot. They didn’t know. But the data said he was at risk either way.
The constant, unwanted contact with Chicago PD officers ensured the latter happened. Criminals and other neighborhood residents assumed he was snitching. Officers frequently stopped by his house or hung around the bodega he worked at. A visit by filmmakers producing a documentary on predictive policing made things worse, raising even more questions about McDaniel and his relationship with the police department.
Those questions got McDaniel shot… twice.
A day or two later, while hanging out at a neighbor’s house a block away from his home, McDaniel says, he got a call from someone who, he says, “was supposed to’ve been a friend.” The friend said they were outside McDaniel’s house and wanted him to come outside and explain it again — what the story was, how he’d gotten on the heat list, why people from CPD had visited his home, why he was now being documented by filmmakers.
McDaniel agreed — but as he headed back to his house, a car pulled up. A man fired multiple shots from inside the car. One hit McDaniel in the knee, and his leg gave out.
Last summer, it happened again.
Near midnight on August 13th last year, he walked into an alleyway a few hundred feet from where shooters nearly killed him years before. It was quiet, a half-block from his home. Checking text messages on his phone, he looked up to see himself ambushed. Two shooters in black, an attempted hit. A surveillance video from that night shows darkened figures walking through an alley, bursts of gunfire. A figure — McDaniel — falls into a brick wall, then slides down to the ground.
To some officers, these shootings might be viewed as proof the “heat list” works. After all, McDaniel has twice been the victim of gun violence, just like the
gypsy lady foretold just like the software said he would. Of course, that conclusion conveniently ignores the unending interactions with police officers that gave McDaniel the snitch reputation that got him shot.
Other officers seem a bit more cynical about the heat list’s ability to actually pinpoint criminals or crime.
Mocking the opaqueness of the operation and its seeming ineffectiveness, Second City Cop, a local blog written by anonymous Chicago police officers, began referring to the heat list and its team as the “crystal ball unit.”
The “heat list” was finally abandoned in 2019, but not before doing serious, multiple-bullet-wound damage to McDaniel and an untold amount of harm to others before being shut down. Predictive policing soldiers on, though, but it appears the PD is no longer sending officers to harass people simply because they have an increased chance of being a victim of a violent crime.
And the program’s end doesn’t do anything for McDaniel. People in his neighborhood still apparently believe he’s a snitch. The cops may stop by less frequently now that he’s no longer interesting, but they kept at it long enough to turn this offshoot of predictive policing into a self-fulfilling prophecy.