for all different purposes … and maybe on a federal level they are already gaming and in those worlds, but from a local law enforcement level, we are not in any of that.”

Tech Advances

New data may drive the future of predictive policing, but technology won’t stand still. Paul Steinberg, CTO of Motorola Solutions, says the ways officers gather data and receive instruction will radically change in the next few decades. Steinberg said he envisions much more mobile technology use — far beyond the laptops and smartphones that cops carry today.

From RFID-based fabrics to advanced hands-free mobile platforms, Steinberg believes technology will become an extension of a person, rather than separate devices he or she carries. For example, Motorola is discussing how to embed display technology into an optical unit that can capture and relay information to a police officer.

It could be something similar to Google Goggles, but specifically designed for cops and emergency personnel. So when first responders arrive on a scene, their reality is augmented with technology that increases situational awareness.

“It is the kind of thing you are going to see a lot more of,” Steinberg said. “People are not going to want to carry the devices; they are going to want to wear them and have them be as unobtrusive as possible.”

Clausius cautioned that new technology needs to be deployed in ways that don’t compromise officer safety. Having been an officer herself for nine years, she said that the job is to respond to a situation and focus on street-level issues.

“We need to provide them the tools that make their job easier, but we also need to keep in mind it is a safety issue,” Clausius said. “If they are being thrown so much information that they are taking their eyes off the suspect or off the road, we might actually be causing more problems.”

Man Versus Machine

One science fiction element not likely to be a part of predictive policing in the next 20 years is computer-based decision-making. While complex algorithms will be used to evaluate mountains of new data, both police and researchers believe advanced computers and artificial intelligence won’t be at a level where they’d feel comfortable trusting machines to make deployment decisions.

Douglass spotlighted WarGames — the 1983 film starring Matthew Broderick where a military computer confused reality with a simulation and almost annihilated the world with nuclear missiles — as a still-viable lesson for future generations.

“We have not been able to automate intuition into computers — they are a binary, two-dimensional look at things,” Douglass said. “The human element adds that quality of intuition that I don’t think is dispensable. I think [the data] is always going to need some human interpretation.”

Clausius and McCue agreed. Clausius said that despite the

likelihood of further artificial intelligence advancements, computers should remain a tool and the human element should always be present.

McCue added that from an operational public safety and national security perspective, she’d be troubled by the automation of police resources and deployment decisions.

“I don’t see in my lifetime getting to the point where we can develop a machine-learning algorithm that would be able to select the tactics and strategy that you would use to address a particular scenario,” McCue said.

Fritz pointed out that while computers have been shown to make independent decisions, they’re usually governed by a defined set of rules. For example, in chess, a computer can make choices and anticipate moves based on those rules.

But in the criminal world, offenders don’t always adhere to a plan, necessitating the need for a human’s adaptive ability.

Scott concurred that humans need to be a part of the equation when it came to making predictive policing decisions based on data. But he felt it was inevitable that computers would at some point be used for low-level decision-making.

So did Hollywood, but he was confident that actual strategy would always be decided by humans.

“Computer assistance and artificial intelligence in the field is kind of becoming the information technology equivalent of replacing shovels with … bulldozers,” Hollywood said. “You have more power and ability to process larger amounts of data and do basic operations faster. At the same time … you still need somebody driving the bulldozer.”

Brian Heaton  | 

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.