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Prof. Ferguson Quoted in Reason Magazine on Predictive Policing

Wednesday, July 18, 2012   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Max Rodriguez
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Professor Andrew Ferguson is quoted in Reason Magazine on predictive policing, a new law enforcement strategy to reduce crime by using sophisticated computer algorithms to predict criminal activity before it happens.

From Reason Magazine: "How might predictive policing interfere with the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment guarantee that Americans are to be free unreasonable searches and seizures? Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia notes in an article, "Predictive Policing: The Future of Reasonable Suspicion," forthcoming in the Emory Law Journal, that police must have either "probable cause” to search or "reasonable suspicion” to seize an individual. Such determinations are actually predictions by law enforcement officials about the likelihood they will find evidence of a crime when they search a premise or detain a suspect. Can computer programs improve these predictions and thus help police identify would-be perpetrators while excluding the innocent?

Andrew Ferguson



To find analogies to how predictive policing might affect Fourth Amendment protections, Ferguson reviews various Fourth Amendment court cases involving anonymous tips, informant tips, profiling, and high crime area designations. Tips refer to the activities of particular individuals. Predictive policing forecasts do not. Consequently, Ferguson argues, "Because predictive policing does not provide personal knowledge about an ongoing crime, or particularized identification of the suspect involved, it cannot support the weight of reasonable suspicion.”

On the other hand, if a specific area has been identified by the computer program as being at higher risk for an outbreak of, say, burglaries, then courts would likely accept reasonable suspicion arguments by police who had stopped a suspect in that area fitting a burglar "profile,” e.g., carrying duffel bags, tools, ropes, gloves in warm weather, etc. Ferguson concludes that "predictive policing forecasts, alone, will not constitute sufficient information to justify reasonable suspicion or probable cause,” but instead will be seen by courts as a "plus factor” in making such determinations.

Ferguson also expresses the hope that the advent of predictive policing might "cause courts to rethink the current overly flexible approach to reasonable suspicion.” One possible liberty-enhancing benefit from predictive policing might be that by focusing law enforcement attention on specific city blocks that innocent citizens living in higher crime neighborhoods (often inhabited by members of ethnic minorities) may experience less intrusive police contact. Is it too much to hope that better crime forecasts will not only lead to fewer crimes, but also to less police interference with our liberties? Maybe not. But we should always keep in mind that any new technology that helps the police to better protect citizens can also be used to better oppress them."

Read the full article in Reason Magazine, "Stopping Crime Before It Starts"

Professor Andrew Ferguson teaches and writes in the area of criminal law, criminal procedure, and evidence. Read his full bio here

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