Data Driven Policing Raises Concerns In Rochester

Created: 08/28/2014 10:46 PM
By: John Doetkott

(ABC 6 News) -- Officer involved shootings and the events that unfolded in Ferguson, MO, have focused national attention on police procedures.

In 2011, the Rochester City Council approved a $680,000 police system that is just now coming into public view.

On Thursday night, city leaders gathered for the first community forum on the Rochester Police Department's “intelligence-led policing” system.

Intelligence-led policing is essentially data driven law enforcement, with an IBM-developed computer program analyzing data to guide police operations and investigations.

The program uses only pre-existing databases to find correlations between known offenders and incidents in the city, and in the first phase, the program identified the city's 72 most prolific offenders.

Police say 70 percent of those are now incarcerated, and while they can't prove a direct correlation, they say crime in the city is down nine percent since the program's inception.

The second phase of the system will employ a new program to help predict where and when crimes are most likely to occur, with officials hoping to stop crime before it happens.

But officials said the program raises serious ethical concerns.

"When we're focusing our response on people, that can sound an awful lot like profiling,” said Rochester Police Chief Roger Peterson. “The question is, how do we know that we're making those decisions on the right factors and we’re not focusing on race or ethnicity or those things that shouldn’t be a factor.”

Thursday's meeting was hosted by the Council on Black Minnesotans and the Rochester branch of the NAACP, but apart from racial profiling concerns, many also questioned how the data is used and where it comes from.

"We do know that there have been similar programs here in Minnesota that were taken down because of data privacy violations and also the violation of people's civil liberties,” said Kolloh Nimley with the Council on Black Minnesotans.

Chief Peterson said oversight is a key component of the program, and the department recently created an oversight committee to provide transparency.

"Intelligence-led policing…can't exist without the appropriate oversight to make sure that it’s used consistent with what the community expects, consistent with how the community wants to be policed,” Chief Peterson said.