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Virginia Police Using New Technology to Predict Crimes

It sounds like something out of a science fiction movie: police departments able to predict when and where crimes are going to happen before they are even committed. However, it is not fiction; it is reality for Virginia police departments. According to a CBS News affiliate, Suffolk Police Department is using this technology to help law enforcement predict where officers need to be to patrolling to prevent these potential crimes from happening.

The Technology

This particular software is called CrimeReports and it uses real-time crime reports to determine where future crimes may be occurring. The officers on duty are alerted to these potential hot spots by a box that covers the area likely to have criminal activity. Suffolk Police Major Stephanie Burch has called the software a “scientifically-based crystal ball.”

Suffolk Police have been using this software for the last two months and have found it helpful. They say it can take into account factors like the weather and day of the week to help police know where to be at any given time.

The Legality of the Technology

While this technology may seem relatively benign, this and other crime-related technology may bring up questions of constitutionality and due process and privacy rights. Wisconsin’s Supreme Court is currently hearing a case about a different kind of predictive crime software. The software at issue is a program that predicts the likelihood of future criminal behavior by people who are leaving incarceration and suggests the level of supervision and monitoring that should be provided.

The program being used in Wisconsin is called Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS). This software takes into account the answers to 137 questions an inmate is asked about factors such as drug use, beliefs, and parole history. Then, using a “secret algorithm”, the program spits out the level of supervision that an inmate should have. Other states use similar programs though the algorithms may be different.

Admittedly, on its face the technology in Wisconsin is more constitutionally suspect than the program the Suffolk Police Department is using. However, according to a New York Times article written 10 years ago, Virginia was at the time (and may still be) using similar programs. At the time of this article the Wisconsin Supreme Court has yet to rule on the case.

Possible Defenses

As in the case in Wisconsin, many of these criminal justice-related technologies may be constitutionally suspect and defense attorneys can take advantage of this to get charges dismissed or evidence thrown out. Ezekiel Edwards, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Criminal Law Reform Project warns: “We are kind of rushing into the world of tomorrow with big-data risk assessment without properly vetting, studying and ensuring that we minimize a lot of these potential biases in the data.”

Leesburg, Virginia Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you are charged with a crime in Virginia, you need skilled criminal defense attorneys on your side to defend you against the charges. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys at Simms Showers, LLP in Leesburg, Virginia, can help you to present the best defense possible.

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